I was young. I was stupid. I was afraid to ask questions.
And my dogs paid the price.
But one experience with a bad vet did teach me how to take better care of my dogs.
How To Find a Bad Vet
I adopted my first dogs, Agatha and Christie, from the Philadelphia SPCA. They were about 4 months old.
Back in the early 1990s, no one spayed or neutered young puppies. The general practice was to wait until they were at least 6 months old.
For the SPCA, it was a gamble. They wanted the dogs to be older before having the surgery. But what if careless owners didn’t follow through? Or what if they waited too long and their dog produced an unexpected litter?
The SPCA sent me home with a voucher to spay each of the girls for free. I also got a list of the Philadelphia vets who would do the free surgery. One was a few blocks from my house. So when Agatha and Christie were six months old, we took them to the West Philly vet.
The vet had a pet care radio program. He was in the neighborhood. And he was on the SPCA’s referral list. What could go wrong?
Signs of a Bad Vet
The office smelled. And I’m not talking about antiseptic and cleaning fluids. It smelled like animals.
The office was in an old house. Every floor in the waiting area was carpeted, never a good sign.
My misgivings about the office were forgotten somewhat when I met the vet. He was very gentle with Agatha and Christie and had a good dog bed manner.
We arranged a date with the office manager to bring Agatha and Christie back for their surgery. We did not feed them, per the instructions, for 12 hours before they came in. I planned to pick them up the next day after they came out of anesthesia. And that was the last positive interaction I had with this vet office.
The Bad Vet Nightmare Begins
As I had been told, I came to pick up Agatha and Christie following their surgery. But they weren’t ready.
The office manager told me the vet didn’t have time to do the surgery but that he’d do it the next day if I just left the dogs one more night. And I did.
See? I told you I was stupid.
I did wonder if the girls had eaten after fasting for the surgery that didn’t happen. But I told myself that someone must have given them something to eat when it became obvious the vet wouldn’t do the surgery.
I came back the next day to pick up Agatha and Christie and was told the vet did not have time to do the surgery yet again. But if I left them one more night, I could pick them up the next day.
Did I tell you I was really stupid? Because I yelled at the office manager about my poor, starving dogs waiting to be spayed. But I left them one more night. Ugh. I hate myself just thinking of it.
The next time, the dogs were waiting for me and ready to go home. If by ready to go home, you mean with their fur soaked in urine and covered with fleas.
Paying For The Bad Vet
The spaying was free. But it cost me a fortune.
At the time, I lived in an enormous, three-story, six bedroom duplex. It wasn’t long before fleas were everywhere. I had to bomb the house several times. Flea treatments don’t kill flea eggs. So every treatment must be repeated each time eggs hatch.
I vacuumed every day, throwing out the vacuum bag.
But the worst was that Christie wasn’t healing from her surgery.
Agatha looked good. But Christie had a seeping wound at her surgical incision.
I asked a few of my neighbors for the name of a good vet and found one in Center City Philadelphia. They were hard to get to. I had to park in a nearby garage, take Christie for her first elevator ride, and walk several blocks to the vet. But the doctor was highly recommended.
The vet suggested exploratory surgery to see what was preventing Christie’s incision from healing. When I picked her up after her surgery (exactly as scheduled and flea-free), the vet presented me with the metal sutures the bad vet had used to close her wound.
With the nasty metal sutures gone, Christie healed quickly and never had any other problems.
Learning From Good Vets
Because I had never been responsible for caring for an animal before, I didn’t know what to expect.
You could argue that I should have listened to what my heart knew was wrong and you’d be right. But I’ve always been slow to listen to emotional cues.
Luckily, I’ve only had good vets to learn from since then.
Not only have I gotten excellent care for my dogs over the years, I’ve felt listened to and supported by my vets.
And while my vets had my dogs’ best interests at heart, they also looked for ways to keep costs affordable so I could continue to get the preventive care for my dogs that is so important in giving them a long and healthy life.
Some of the good vet practices included:
- multi-pet discounts
- giving me recipes for homemade food that would support my dog’s health for less money than premium, prepared foods
- teaching me how to give acupuncture treatments so I wouldn’t have to make the 45 minute drive to the vet’s office
- arranging for me to separate vaccinations by bringing my dog in for a tech to give the shot without paying for an office visit
- teaching pet first aid at a local groomer’s shop so I could take care of small emergencies or improve my dog’s chances until we get to a vet
- reviewing the latest vaccination guidelines with me so we weren’t overvaccinating or leaving my dogs without needed protections
I’ve had five good vets since that first bad one. And I’ve never had a moment where I felt my dogs weren’t getting good care.
Bad Vets and Television Ratings
Did you see the 20/20 exposé on vet care?
No, I’m not going to link to it. It was shoddy work that didn’t even deserve to be called journalism.
It was created to get a ratings buzz. And if it succeeded, it has the potential to drive even more thoughtless people away from getting appropriate vet care for their animals.
But it has created some terrific discussions online. Dr. Marty Becker reacted with hurt and anger over having less than two minutes of his 90 minute interview with ABC News (and I use that word under protest) being used to support the show’s premise, that vets are recommending treatments dogs don’t need to make more money.
And I’ve gotten a strong response to my post on Facebook about the Secret Confessions of a Veterinarian.
Although I have used alternative treatments for my dogs, I’m not a fan of Dr. Andrew Jones, the centerpiece of the 20/20 interview. The show implies that he lost his vet license for refusing to up sell vet services. I have read that he lost his license for improper ethics in marketing “insider secrets” for pet care. The veterinary board’s investigation of Dr. Jones is no longer available online so I could not confirm that. But the huge sales page for his two websites tempts me to lump him in with diet plans and get rich quick schemes.
But I’m glad people are talking about vet care. What is good vet care? What is bad vet care?
How a Bad Vet Caused Me To Take Better Care of My Dogs
I’m still very ashamed that I didn’t advocate better for my dogs when I met my first (and hopefully only bad vet).
But I learned lessons that have made me a better caregiver for my dogs.
- if it doesn’t smell right (literally or figuratively, run away)
- rely on people you know and trust to recommend a good vet
- don’t be afraid to ask questions
And when you find a good vet, sing her praises, bake her cookies, and pay your bills on time. Because you don’t want to know how much a bad vet will cost you (or your dogs).
Your Turn: Do you have a bad vet story? Have you met vets that you felt were more concerned with making a profit than caring for your animals? Or have you found vets that give good and compassionate care?
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photo credit: (Flea prayer) Pacdog via photopin cc