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Veterinary hospital reports threats over puppy's emergency case
Maine Veterinary Medical Center has been the target of public vitriol since the story of a surrendered pet in need of immediate care was made public
Maine Veterinary Medical Center (MVMC) has reported receiving messages threatening to harm the staff and the hospital after the case of a dog in need of emergency care was made public. The story went viral after a client was unable to pay a large bill, and she surrendered the German shepard puppy to the hospital in Scarborough, Maine.1
The case went public after a local news outlet published a story from the pet owner’s perspective, after MVMC—part of the Rarebreed Veterianry Partners network—had declined to comment. MVMC later released a public statement to share its side of the story, following multiple death threats made online that were directed at the hospital.
“Our staff are now faced with a social media maelstrom that includes hourly threats to burn down the hospital and to kill our staff and their families. We’ve had to have police guarding the hospital around the clock. Our phone lines have been deliberately jammed so that real emergency calls cannot get through,” MVMC said in the statement.1
On May 26, 2022, a pet owner brought in her 4-month-old German shepherd, Jaxx, to the MVMC because of the dog was showing signs of pain and potential infection. The MVMC reported that, “based on the infection, it was clear the dog had been suffering for at least 24-48 hours prior to [the hospital] seeing him.”1
According to MVMC, the hospital recommended keeping Jaxx overnight to conduct further tests and continue observation. Based on the information that the owner was able to provide, the initial cost estimate for Jaxx’s medical attention was in the range of $2,630.55 to $3,330.26.1
However, the next morning, Jaxx showed signs of increased abdominal pain, causing the veterinarians to perform an ultrasound. “Based on the ultrasound, a presumptive skewer (linear object) is penetrating from the duodenum (first part of small intestine) through liver and entering the chest. There is free fluid within the chest and abdominal fluid consistent with leaking intestinal contents and concern for septic abdomen,” the MVMC said in the statement.1
“This is a significant injury that requires emergency surgery.” Surgery plan is to remove the skewer, close the hole/rupture in small intestine (duodenum), ensure the liver does not have significant penetration, bleeding, or complication,” the hospital added.1
With the medications, tests, overnight stay, and surgery, the new cost estimate was $9,585.57 to $10,086.41. According to MVMC, veterinarians at the hospital discussed credit options with the pet owner, but they were told that she needed to apply for a loan with her bank and call the hospital back later, according to the release.1
After a few hours of back and forth between the hospital and pet owner, it was reported that the owner had been declined for a loan. According to the hospital, she told the staff, “At this point, I’m prepared to say good-bye because you guys don’t have payment plans, and I have no way of paying.”1
The hospital then suggested the option of surrendering the dog to someone who was able to pay for his medical expenses, instead of euthanizing Jaxx. MVMC reported, “The pet owner signed a legal document surrendering ownership.”
According to MVMC, the pet owner had been trying to raise money to cover the costs and started a GoFundMe page for donations. She reported paying back the hospital $10,000 but MVMC's statement indicated that information was untrue, and she only paid back “initial medications and tests.”1
The case was made public through a local news source after the client attempted to take back Jaxx. In an interview with CBS13, the owner said she ultimately received an offer of a loan from the puppy's breeder.2 However, by the time she called the hospital to tell them she would have the bill paid, Jaxx had already been placed with a new owner, whose privacy is protected by the legal document signed by the puppy's original owner.1,2
“Jaxx had the surgery and is recovering well. He is with his new owner, and we hope will live a long and happy life,” MVMC shared in the statement.1
The veterinary community responds
Because he previously lived in Maine not far from MVMC and is familiar with some of its staff members, Stephen Cital, RVT, RLAT, SRA, CVPP, VTS-Lam (Res. Anesthesia), said he was shocked to see how this event has been handled, by not only the local community but those online as well.
“I applaud MVMC for making their statement but also would ask the veterinary community to reflect on our own reactions (online) to what happened," said Cital in an email to dvm360®.
"Firstly, the following is not directed at MVMC as they have taken the high road. However, it is inappropriate for us, in my opinion, as the veterinary community to say things like ‘If they can't afford medical care, they shouldn't own a dog.’ How many of us, especially [veterinary technicians] could afford an $8000 expense for our collection of special needs animals we tend to adopt without the generous payment plans or discounts we get as an employee? Even with pet insurance, paying 10% or $800 would break some of our banks,” he continued.
For emergency room veterinarian Tannetje' Crocker, DVM, Jaxx's case hits close to home because she has seen pets surrendered. However, this scenario causes fear and anger in the emergency veterinarian because she said this could happen to 'any one of us"
"I think, unfortunately, in the emergency room, we are put in these lose-lose situations frequently. This dog was, per my understanding, very sick and septic, which has a very low survival prognosis in general. But due to the fact that it was a young dog, the veterinarians wanted to do everything they could for him," Crocker explained to dvm360®.
"But counteracting that is always the owner's ability to pay, financially, for care that is really intensive, especially in a case like this. So often, in these circumstances, what you want to do to help the pets, but the cost can make it prohibitive for the owner. So then you're forced with the options of euthanizing the pet, or trying to find some alternative means of helping this pet," she continued.
According to Crocker, she believes this event could have a long-lasting effect on the profession. If veterinary professionals cannot save pets through surrenders without facing backlash, they, along with pet parents, will opt to euthanize pets.
"I get emotional when I think about what [MVMC] have had to deal with because it can be any of us. And it can be any of our team members that are scared to leave the hospital and go home after working a really long shift, and laying it out on the line for the pets that they really care about."
The impact to veterinary care
According to MVMC, the hospital is now at risk of closure because of the threats and external interruptions to its phone systems. Currently, the hospital's website and social media platforms are also inaccessible.
"This situation was unique to our practice, but it is not unique to the profession," the MVMC statement noted. "Veterinary doctors are victims of threats and violence to such extent that it is a national crisis."1
Receiving threats from the public also affects mental health in the veterinary community. "The organization Not One More Vet exists to help prevent suicide and to aid members of our profession who are in crisis,” noted MVMC.1
“One in 5 veterinarians have experienced or had a close colleague experience the effects of cyberbullying," said Not One More Vet in a statement. "It primarily impacts our well-being. 48% of veterinarians who experience cyberbullying are so distressed they consider a career change.”3
Despite the negative reactions expressed to MVMC, Crocker said there are also many favorable views of the hospital and its staff for their handling of the case. "I just want [MVMC] to know that there is so much love and support for them out there among pet owners and veterinary professionals, and I hope that they see that. I hope that they feel that a little bit in between all the hatred that they've unfortunately received recently that was not deserved," she said.
- Statement from Maine Veterinary Medical Center. News release. Rarebreed Veterinary Partners. June 11, 2022. Accessed June 13, 2022. https://www.facebook.com/rarebreedvets/photos/a.290342291843691/1037107957167117/
- WGME. 'Please be kind:' MVMC, CBS13 denounce social media threats, harassment after story. CBS13. June 13, 2022. Accessed June 14, 2022. https://wgme.com/news/local/please-be-kind-mvmc-cbs13-denounce-social-media-threats-harassment-after-story-jaxx-german-shepherd-maine
- Statement from Not One More Vet. News release. June 12, 2022. Accessed June 13, 2022. https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=336210125344714&set=pcb.336210245344702