Dying dog turned away by community veterinarians
What do you do when the owners of a sick or dying pet call you for help? Chances are, you tell them to come in right away. Like sailors on an aircraft carrier, you and your team clear the deck and make way for emergency cases when there's no time to refer and no time to think twice.
A difficult situation for everyone
But it's not always so easy. Your clinic might not be open or you may not be equipped to handle the emergency. That's what happened in Fond du Lac, Wis. A local, Bob Ring, asked his brother to shoot his convulsing, pain-ridden red-and-white border collie, Annie, when Ring couldn't get emergency veterinary care soon enough, according to a story in The Reporter newspaper. (Read the original article at the newspaper's Web site). He didn't need extensive medical care for Annie—just a gentler way to put down the dying dog.
When Ring called his regular veterinarian, the after-hours answering machine told him to head to Fox Valley Emergency Pet Care 35 miles away in another town. Ring's calls to other local veterinarians yielded more answering machine messages directing him out of town. Ring talked to a veterinarian who said he only came in after hours for his clients. Another veterinarian told him he only did after-hours work for livestock. Yet another local veterinarian who was out of the office when Ring called said he would have euthanized Annie if he'd been in.
A distraught Ring figured Annie would never make it to the emergency clinic, so he called his brother on a farm to stop Annie's pain. The local humane society cremated Annie's ashes, and Ring keeps them in an urn at his house.
A doctor's anger
A Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member, Dr. Craig Woloshyn, looked at the issue of emergency care in a Hot Button, "Epitaph for Cotton" . Dr. Woloshyn lambasted local colleagues who refused to see a convulsing dog that eventually died at his clinic, arriving too late to be helped. Some readers wrote in to praise Dr. Woloshyn for highlighting the issue of refusing emergencies. (We printed some of those letters and Dr. Woloshyn's responses here.)
One veterinarian wrote that she sees all emergencies any time, any day. Others wrote in to explain their reasons for sometimes not accepting emergencies. One criticized Dr. Woloshyn for not considering the clinics' caseloads: Were the doctors in the middle of surgery? Was the clinic short-staffed? Another doctor wrote to ask whether it's possible to see every patient who comes in off the street and still keep a "doable schedule, better patient care, and a happy hospital."
If there's a lesson in these stories and opinions, it may be that every veterinarian should spend some time revisiting emergency care in their area. Is there a 24-hour referral clinic nearby? If not, what happens when an Annie in your neighborhood needs help?
A call for comments
Please share your policies for emergency cases below, and any incidents you've had with emergencies. Your fellow doctors are listening.