By Christie Long
We have a procedure we follow when clients leave their pets with us for routine anesthetic procedures. We make sure the animal has been feeling well, that it hasn’t been fed since the previous evening, and we ask if the owner has any concerns or questions about the procedure.
Yesterday, before leaving her cat with us for the day a client answered the last question with a question of her own. She asked us what were the chances that that her cat would be accidentally euthanized while it’s here.
It’s a startling question, but I know why she asked it. The news told recently of a cat euthanized by accident by a veterinarian on the East Coast. The cat was dropped off by the owner’s son for a flea bath; somehow, the wrong consent form was used and the son mistakenly consented to euthanasia.
I have no doubt that all parties involved, especially the veterinarian, are devastated by this tragedy. But it’s hard to figure how a communication error of this magnitude could have occurred. It’s not clear whether the technician simply grabbed the wrong form and said, “sign here,” or whether she completely misunderstood what the owner wanted. What’s also puzzling to me is how a veterinarian gets handed a cat and told that the owner wants to euthanize it and then does it without being the slightest bit curious as to what has led the owner to that irreversible decision.
At our clinic, whenever a pet is left for any reason, we perform a complete verbal review with the owner of what procedures are to be performed and what the estimated cost will be. This happens whether the procedure is a nail trim or major surgery. Our consent form lists the authorized procedures that we have verbally agreed to, and the owner signs this and leaves the best phone number at which to be reached, should the need arise to change the agreed-upon plan.
It’s also our policy that euthanasia does not occur without the client meeting with the veterinarian to discuss the pet’s condition and the specific reasons that the owner has decided to euthanize it. No matter how busy we are, we always take the time to sit down with owners and counsel them. Sometimes we can provide other options, such as finding a new home for a pet that is no longer wanted or pain relief that might help an older animal feel well again.
I’d like to believe that this incident will inspire veterinarians around the country to review their procedures with respect to how they communicate with clients about their pets, who clearly can’t speak for themselves. As a pet owner you have a right to expect clear, concise communication regarding what happens to your pet when you leave it. You would expect no less from your auto mechanic, so why not demand it from your veterinarian?
Christie Long is a veterinarian at the VCA Animal Hospital in Fort Collins, CO. Long left her job in software sales in 2000 to travel for 13 months. Along the way, she was touched by the plight of the animals she saw and somewhere in the Nepalese Himalayas she vowed to return to school to become a veterinarian. While she often finds end-of-life situations heart-wrenching, she considers herself blessed to be called upon as a trusted adviser to families during difficult times. Dr. Long’s family includes her husband and travel partner, Wiley, their son, Wiley IV, their dogs Pancake and Gizmo and cats Sneaky and Sidh.