Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Veterinarians Behaving Very Badly

We have been getting some rather nice mail from various sources, one of which is the veterinary paraprofessional staff, such as vet techs, veterinary assistants, and veterinary receptionists. Many have said that they have the same client stories with a few variations, but some have also said they would have to include some stories about doctors that had some, um, personality issues as well.

So, I thought I would share a story from my days working as a lowly veterinary assistant prior to vet school. I worked for a small clinic for a veterinarian that I had known since I was about 3. He and his family went to church with my family. Before working for him, I thought he was a pretty affable sort of guy. At church, he always seemed gracious and happy. He was well respected amongst my family's friends.

With little trepidation, I went to work for him during the summer after my first year in college. For the most part, I was ignorant of the proper way to do small animal practice, so I didn't realize that rinsing and reusing syringes AND NEEDLES was not only dangerous to the staff (would you feel safe rinsing needles or popping a dulled, overused needle in the skin of some poor animal?) it was clearly not a good idea for sterility. I didn't know that most surgeons change gowns between surgeries.

However, the first time I saw him kick a sedated dog down the hall into the surgery area, I knew there was a serious problem. He started with dragging the dog by the slip lead, in a stranglehold. Then he just kicked it down the hall. It wasn't a little push of the foot to slide it down the hall, it was a kick.

I also saw him backhand a dog that was sedated prior to a euthanasia. Why did he do this? The dog was being euthanized because it was aggressive. Hell, the dog had almost bitten me at a prior exam when I was just talking to the owner and I would have never thought to do that.

At another euthanasia, this very sweet little old lady was having to put her darling long term poodle to sleep. She told me she was looking forward to seeing him when she was dead. Once the deed was done, she turned to this doctor and asked, "Dr. Insensitive, you believe I will see Pookie in heaven, right?"

He actually answered back, "No, the Bible tells us dogs don't have a soul, therefore they cannot go to heaven."

The poor little old lady was devastated. I was horrified.

I learned many things from him. One of the most important things I learned was that just because you were an AAHA hospital and had been named practitioner of the year in your state, it did not mean that you were a good and compassionate doctor. The other thing I learned was that I would honor the emotional needs of clients even if it meant denying my own religious beliefs. As an atheist, I gladly have bowed my heads when an owner wants to say a prayer over their pet. I have assisted in many goodbyes where I told the owner that I believed that Fluffy would be waiting in the afterlife. While I do not believe in convenience euthanasias, I believe very strongly that when someone makes a decision to say goodbye to a pet, whether for financial, medical, or behavioral reasons, I will try to be as respectful and compassionate as possible.


  1. Every profession has a small number of greatly disturbed individuals who need help to overcome their mental problems. Hopefully, he got the counseling he needed.
    This is such a sad situation. It should serve as a reminder of what could happen if we allow ourselves to become burnt out/bitter.

  2. I've only known one doctor to do this, and it wasn't taught in school but a doctor I'd worked for and was a prior president of the state VMA used to collect urine by hanging cats from a slip lead until they urinated if he couldn't express their bladder.
    He used the hanging technique for some other purposes also. These things, when reported to the state board of governors was reported to be 'under threshold'. Go figure. I no longer am a part of the state VMA.

  3. "The other thing I learned was that I would honor the emotional needs of clients even if it meant denying my own religious beliefs. As an atheist, I gladly have bowed my heads when an owner wants to say a prayer over their pet."

    That is very admirable! I am a Christian, so it comes very natural to me to reassure a client that they will meet their pets again in heaven. I never considered what an atheist or someone of a different religion must feel when asked that question. It is very kind of you to be comfortable enough to do what you do.

  4. Disturbing on a couple of levels. First, that anyone involved in our profession of veterinary medicine would intentionally cause undue stress, physically strike an animal, or open up an animal for nosocomial infections. Second, generally people in the US are allowed to question their accuser, as this post paints a broad picture of an entire practice career thru four examples. Is this behavior excusable? As described, most certainly not, as that isn't the standard of care we strive for. However, is that exactly as it happened? Did this behavior change as the practice changed or was this an everyday occurrence? I also worked at a practice after my first year of college, about 18 years ago, and things were different than they are now. I still know and see that practitioner regularly, and his practice has evolved in the last 18 years--meaning he doesn't do things the same way as he did 18 years ago (including washing syringes--no needles however). It is with caution that accusations that cannot be responded to should be used.
    Again-I certainly do not condone this type of behavior as described, but being optimistic about our profession, I hope the good far outweighed the bad.

    1. This practitioner is now retired and the hospital that he started has come a long way from washing syringes and needles. However, the instances of abuse listed were ones that I witnessed with my own eyes. They were not the only ones I saw and certainly not the only ones that happened. I was too scared to say anything as was the rest of the staff. He was a well known practitioner, recently named vet of the year in our state. He was in Sunday school with my parents. I don't know that, 18 years ago, anything would have really been done. Now, with the cell phone cameras, this kind of thing could easily be recorded. But as it stood, I would have lost my job, alienated someone that was connected socially to my family, and possible lost my chance to go to vet school.

      As an adult, I would not accept this. But I am no longer 18 and frightened of such things.

  5. Standing up....*CLAPPING!!!*

  6. I too worked for one of these guys while in high school. He was also abusive to certain staff, throwing retractors in surgery, etc. He once choked a dog to death that was resisting anesthetic induction prior to spaying. He took the dog into surgery and opened it up so he could tell the client it died from surgical complications. There were many other incidences. He too was very well respected in the community, practiced in the wealthiest area of town. He made it very clear that that his recommendation would be necessary for entrance to veterinary school. No one in my practice is even allowed to yell at an animal unless under immediate attack (thank goodness that is almost never). If an animal is very agressive, that is when modern pharmacology makes everyone's life more pleasant.

  7. I worked for a guy like this. He once told a couple their dog had cancer which he found after doing an ultrasound. I was completely beside myself hearing him say this because we didnt have an ultrasound! He later told me he just didnt feel like doing the work. We also had a patient who was "aggressive" (I think it was more so scared because how this vet was) and Dr. jerkface told me to get a lead and put it around his neck. He then proceeded to hang the dog off the table and strangle it so I could administer shots.... Did I mention we weren't allowed to throw away needles or suringes until he found it appropriate. We also used the same surgical drapes for every surgery... and he didnt wear gloves. As I am typing this I am surprised I lasted 3 months there.