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Vets Holding Dogs Hostage – Threatening Death

Veterinary medicine, like human medicine, has its share of good and bad practitioners, but I have seen a disturbing trend in the field of veterinary medicine. There was a time when veterinarians treated animals for the love of animals and because they cared. Veterinary medicine had become as bad as human medicine and in some ways even worse!

At least many people have medical insurance and there are programs for people who need medical care. For pets, yes, medical insurance is available, but compared to the number of pets, coverage is not yet widespread. And yes, there are some low cost programs available, but they are mostly spay/neuter programs and vaccination programs.

Veterinary medicine has become “big business”, revolving doors, “bottom line” watchers. Most vets require a 75% down payment for any type of surgery, and if there is any doubt about paying the bill, which can easily run into the thousands of dollars, they won’t touch your pet. Vet visits and surgeries cost dog owners nearly $800 and cat owners $500 last year, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. And that’s just an average! Few vets are willing to set up payment plans.

I’ve come across a lot of stories in the news lately that have really bothered me, vets holding dogs ‘hostage’, threatening ‘death’ over bills. Human doctors don’t do this, so how can vets get away with it? Because animals are nothing more than “possessions?”

Josh Gomez of Gwinnett, Georgia, says his veterinarian, Dr. Garry Innocent of PetFIRST Animal Hospital in Duluth is holding his black collie, Pilot, hostage and threatening to send him to an animal shelter where he could be euthanized.

Gomez has already paid Innoentis the agreed upon amount of $1,125 for the puppy virus treatment in August. The next thing he knew there were all kinds of extra charges that hadn’t been agreed upon. The bill ballooned to $1,640 and rising daily, with the vet holding the puppy, due to the $27-a-day boarding fee. As of September 14, Gomez owed almost an additional $1000 over what he originally agreed to pay to Dr. Garry Innocent and PetFIRST Animal Hospital. As a 22-year-old music teacher at home, Gomez says he simply can’t afford to pay the exorbitant fees. He’s already racked up $400 on his girlfriend’s free card and used a $750 loan from his employer.

And what exactly does Dr. Innocent about it, “He’s so mad, he just has to pay his bill.”

How’s that for understanding and compassion?

On Tuesday, the vet plans to send Gomez’s dog, Pilot, to an animal shelter. Gomez filed a lawsuit in Gwinnett Superior Court this week to prevent Innocent and PetFIRST Animal Hospital from turning Pilot over to animal control authorities. His attorney, Ed McCrimmon, says the Georgia law is unconstitutional because it allows pet clinics to take people’s property without “due process.”

In another story from San Antonio, Texas, Jacqueline Hines rescued a small Chihuahua from the streets. She was just a Good Samaritan, helping an animal in need. And of course when the little dog, whom he named Matso, got sick, he took him to the vet.

Hines, a 76-year-old widow on a fixed income, told the vet she couldn’t pay more than $100, and the vet said OK, treated the dog and charged her $93. Sounds pretty good so far, right?

Well, the next morning Macho was even worse, so Hines took him back, another $341!

Then two hours later she went back to the ER with her dog because it was even worse! “I definitely had an anxiety attack,” Hines said.

Here the dog was “cured” and sent home twice for a total of $434, after Hines specifically told the vet that he was on a fixed income and could only afford $100. To me, a reputable vet would have done a little better at investigating the situation and honestly told Hines to find out what was wrong with the dog, or if she didn’t know, at least tell her that she couldn’t treat the dog within her financial constraints and let her see if she could find other options. She would not have repeatedly “treated” the dog, charged her, and sent the dog home only to bring her back for additional “emergency” treatments!

This last time she couldn’t pay the bill and had to leave her little dog at the vet because, of course, they couldn’t let her take him home. Five days later Hines receives a letter in the mail.

“Telling me if I didn’t pay within 12 days, they were going to kill the dog,” Hines said.

The actual wording of the letter was: “We intend to dispose of the animal,” wording taken directly from Texas law that allows veterinarians to dispose of abandoned animals.

The vet said that contrary to Hines’ belief based on the wording “put the animal down”, that they are trying to find a home for the animal, not kill it!

Luckily for Hines, before her little mate could get “off” a friend paid the vet bill and now she and Macho are reunited and she can pay her friend back over time.

These are two stories of pets being held ‘hostage’ with vets threatening to ‘put them down’ if they don’t get their money. I have no doubt that Jacqueline Hines would have happily worked out a payment plan with the vet if that was an option, after all, she has been able to repay her friend.

And here is just one more. No dog is being held ‘hostage’, but because the owner couldn’t pay up front, a dog in severe pain was turned away at the door of several vets, even though the owner offered to arrange payment plans with them to get her dog treated.

Lauren Standifer of Fort Worth, Texas, was moving and asked a friend to watch her dog, Amir. All was well until one day her friend came home from work to find that someone had poured some corrosive liquid, like acid, on the dog’s back. Standifer scrambled to find a veterinarian who would work out a payment plan for the extensive and expensive surgery Amir would need. The dog was in pain but all the vets she contacted turned her down.

Fortunately for her and Amir, the rescue group she adopted Amir from put her in touch with a vet who actually performed the surgery and cared for Amir for free. In fact there are still some vets out there who work from the heart and not the wallet.

Veterinarian salaries have increased, and younger vets are demanding higher starting salaries before they even get a foot in the door. A new graduate will start at $60,000 a year. Higher corporate practices will pay even more. These practice owners earn more than $100,000 a year. I know that veterinary medicine has changed and become much more specialized. I realize there are overheads and salaries and equipment, but I also believe that medicine, whether animal or human, should be practiced from the heart, not the wallet. What would be the harm in adding a little compassion, free of charge?

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