We vets have a soft spot for those sick creatures in our midst whose owners might not have the funds to undertake treatment. We often go the extra mile, finding surgeons willing to donate a freebie, calling breed rescues, sourcing inexpensive medications online, rummaging in our stash of donated meds, even using out-of-date stuff when it’s clear there’s no cash for care. Sure, we cross the line by doing this sometimes. But what’s the alternative?

In Orlando, one vet’s soft spot recently landed her in a heap of trouble. It appears that she may have allowed one of her relief veterinarians to take home a dog scheduled for euthanasia. The owners had signed on the dotted line, paid for the procedure and left, tears in their eyes, unable to watch until the very end.

The dog had suffered from painful tumors in its ears, which the family was financially unable to have treated. They elected euthanasia instead of letting her suffer. The veterinarian on duty that day apparently decided that she could not euthanize an otherwise healthy animal. So she didn’t. She treated the ears and failed to inform the client.

Eight months later, the owner of the hospital contacted the family to inform them that their dog was alive and had been “stolen by another vet,” presumably the relief vet who elected to treat her and take her home. The hospital owner had apparently been aware of the situation the entire time and stated that attempts had been made to call the owner—to no avail.

The owner is hopping mad, angry that the dog was still alive and successfully treated because of the anguish her family had endured, wounds reopened and all that. Though the family was reunited with the dog, the media was called in to bear witness to the injustice.

I don’t know the details of this convoluted story. I can only offer a vet’s point of view on how troubling, stressful and unendurable euthanasia can be when there’s a fixable pet staring you in the eye.

But our profession does offer legal alternatives for these cases. Frequently, we ask an owner to reassign ownership to the hospital, pending placement of the pet in a loving home that might afford the treatment. Euthanasia is still a possibility, the clients may be informed, but this gives the pet a chance to find a loving home.

I can’t speak to what happened in this instance, but I do believe that the owners should be gratified enough not to be spewing venom into the media’s greedy microphones. What the veterinarian did was wrong. If she did make attempts to call them and they did not respond, her choices would have required a legal injunction to stay the execution. I don’t know of any precedents for such an action, but it seems a reasonable approach to me.

More than anything, this case speaks to the unfortunate position clients often confront when unable to pay for their pets’ care. But it also speaks to the compassion of the veterinary establishment when faced with such a harrowing proposition.

Misguided and poorly executed though it might’ve been, this story proves that most of us do care what happens when clients can’t afford to shoulder the responsibility of a sick animal—and some of us care enough to occasionally cross the line.