There are certain calls to news editors that prove irresistible.
I imagine in this day and age of ratings and clicks mattering more than actual investigative reporting, nothing makes editors salivate more than the tale of a devastated family and the greedy, lazy, and/or incompetent veterinarian responsible for the death of a pet.
It neatly checks all the boxes modern day news websites are looking for: sad family. Adorable pet. Terrible situation. Having fulfilled these requirements, the media happily narrates the story with appropriate gravitas and murmurings of “tragic, Jane, back to you for the weather” and then they go on with their lives while the veterinarian in question now is left with the angry mob to deal with. Who cares? It got a ton of clicks!
Savaging a veterinarian who cannot legally or ethically defend themselves in public has become so common and so rote now that it doesn’t even surprise me any more. The latest happened in Greenville South Carolina, but the same old formula has been circulating for years. I should know; it happened to me too.
I understand- truly, I do– the devastation of a client who has lost a beloved pet. I understand that grief does funny things and it often becomes easier to turn guilt into anger, to blame someone else for all the things you could have done better. Better this than to say to yourself, “I played a role in this pet’s death too.”
Used under Creative Commons license by Alodor at http://flickr.com/photos/7147444@N03/484428480
But I do blame the media for swallowing these stories as presented, regurgitating them to the public as if they were an absolute truth without bothering to even try to get another side to the story. They are part of the reason veterinarians burn out and leave the field, develop addictions, or worse. Because here’s the truth:
As the Vet in Question, You Can’t Win
When someone has lost their pet under sad circumstances and goes to the media, as the professional involved, you are in a terrible situation. We are not supposed to discuss our patients in a public setting. Pointing out that a grieving owner has some responsibility for what transpired is, even when it’s true, awfully callous. There’s just no winning.
As a member of the public, it’s easy to feel outrage when you are presented with a one-sided story, but I’m begging you as someone who has been there, before you jump on the social media bandwagon and pillory yet another professional trying to do their job, to consider that there is probably another side to the story.
I Wish He Had a Chance
In this recent case in South Carolina, a Pomeranian with no ID and no microchip presented with breathing difficulties to an emergency hospital; he was considered a stray, brought in by a Good Samaritan. The pet was euthanized. This is what we know. The hospital declined to comment, as is standard practice.
All any of us have to go on is the owner’s story. My comments, as an emergency veterinarian who’s been in similar situations, follow.
“Bridges says Meeka had a history of tracheal problems that were easily managed with ibuprofen and Benadryl, and believes the vet misdiagnosed her dog’s condition.
Ibuprofen is not prescribed in veterinary medicine*. If the pet was being treated with that, his condition- whatever it was, as ‘slipped trachea’ is not a condition- was never accurately diagnosed or managed. In fact, ibuprofen toxicity is itself a common reason for ER visits.
In an emergency situation where a good Samaritan brings in a pet with breathing difficulty (a true emergency), you are between a rock and a hard place as simple stabilization, never mind diagnostics, runs into the hundreds of dollars or more right out the gate. When you don’t have authorization from the owner and the pet is at risk of dying, you have to make very tough calls.
The family says Meeka was euthanized just a few hours later.
“You can’t be in that profession and not even have a second thought that this that could be a four year old’s puppy that you’re killing,” said Bridges.
This is true. I imagine they did wonder about the pet’s family, and they still made that call. That lets you know how sick the pet was. I can’t speak for the veterinarian in this case, but I’ve been there and when it was me, this is what I have thought:
This is devastating. This poor dog. I wish I knew who he belonged to so I could talk to them. I hope there isn’t a little kid at home wondering if he is OK. I wish he had a chance. I wish he were not panicking while trying to breathe. I wish I had another choice.
The records also show that the Samaritan couldn’t pay for Meeka to have an emergency tracheotomy, and without the funds, he was euthanized.”
He must have been extremely sick. We don’t recommend tracheotomies or euthanize on presentation for a mild soft cough. According to the records shared by the owner, the pet was blue and couldn’t breathe without oxygen- conditions that, in emergency medicine, are as dire as it gets.
If there’s any way to keep the pet safe and comfortable long enough to find the family, of course we will. We want our patients to live too.
My heart is with the Bridges family, who is understandably devastated about Meeka’s death. I don’t blame them for looking for answers. Grieving people do that. I blame the reporter Brookley Cromer, may her stilettos always encounter dog poop, and the team at WISTV, for their laziness in amplifying a grieving family’s questions into implications of guilt instead of presenting the real, nuanced situation. Remember, a collar with tags would have resulted in a different ending.
I wish the Bridges family peace. I wish the staff at Animal Emergency Clinic a bottle of wine. It’s just sad all around.
*The news article has been updated to remove the name of the medication, but that is what was stated by the owner.
Pawcurious: With Veterinarian and Author Dr. V