No wonder veterinarians hate lawyers
By Marcy LaHart, J.D.
I belong to the Florida Bar’s Animal Law Committee, a group I naively joined because I thought it actually had something to do with advancing the legal interests of animals. Come to find out they are so afraid of being perceived as an animal right’s group (gasp!) that the efforts to appear neutral in my mind defeats the purpose of having an animal law committee. Example, a non-attorney citizen working hard to enact a state law to prevent condos from forbidding pets asked if she could come address the committee. She was told no, not unless someone from the “opposition” also spoke. Funny, I have been a member of the Environmental Law Section’s Public Interest Committee for more than a decade, and I have never seen any effort by these environmentally minded lawyers to balance their seminars by ensuring equal time for polluters and developers.
Last week an email was sent to a member of the committee that was forwarded to all the members. The email was from a legal aid attorney, and the subject was “client threatened by vet dog will be euthanized if bill not paid”. According to the email, the attorney had been contacted by a couple, one of whom is disabled, that had a poodle that had puppies five months earlier. They noticed their dog had fleas and did something to treat her but she got sick and their regular vet referred her to a specialty clinic because the dog needed a transfusion. According to the email the vet came out and yelled at the owners saying their neglect had caused the dog’s condition and threatened to report them. The couple of course had no money to pay for the dog’s treatment, and applied for credit but were denied. Then, according to the email, the evil vet took the dog and treated it and was now threatening to kill the dog if they did not cough up the money.
The story sounded pretty suspicious to me, why would a vet treat a sick animal when there is no apparent prospect of payment, and then threaten to kill her? One of my outraged colleagues immediately suggest we all chip in to pay the bill to save this poor dog from certain death in the hands of the evil veterinarian. He offered a whopping $25.00 towards a $1500 bill. A couple other lawyers offered to chip in.
I did not, I can barely pay my own vet bills, and am certainly not going to pay the bill of someone whose dog needed a transfusion because she was anemic from flea bites. In fact I stayed out of the frenzy initially, and it was soon reported that a sheriff acted as intermediary between the couple and the hospital and that the dog had been returned to the couple after working out a payment plan.
Unfortunately I was not smart enough to simply delete the emails. I chimed in suggesting that the people that had jumped to pay the bill might want to contribute to have the dog spayed and provided flea control so she does not end up sucked dry again.
The same colleague that offered the $25 informed me that I missed the point-that this evil vet was engaging in unconscionable practices and must be stopped. I pointed out that we only knew one side of the story, and that vets are not obligated to treat anyone’s pet for free and are likely less willing to do so when the owner’s negligence caused the pet’s critical condition. Surely this dog did not go from perfectly healthy to needing a transfusion overnight. I even included a link to Dr. K’s blog post on flea anemia so that he just might be able to see things from the veterinarian’s perspective.
His response-if I treated the child of parents that let him eat at McDonalds every day, would I be justified in kidnapping the kid until my bill was paid? When I pointed out that the law provides veterinarians a lien for unpaid services I was accused of being an “unimaginative attorney” and when I attempted to give him examples of how I creatively use the law in my animal cases I discovered he had demonstrated his great maturity by blocking my email address.
Clearly my suggestion that there might be another side of the story fell on deaf ears.
Thankfully another committee member contacted the hospital for the proverbial “rest of the story”. The dog was presented with a severe case of flea bite anemia and needed a transfusion. She clearly had been suffering for days before treatment was sought. The owners had no money to pay and were denied credit. They were give two options, we will euthanize the dog to end her suffering, or you can sign her over to us and we will treat her and find her a new home. The owners chose the later, and signed the dog over to the clinic, but later decided they wanted the dog back.
And they got what they wanted. The dog is now back in the hands of people who have failed to prevent her from contributing to South Florida’s obscene pet overpopulation problem, and allowed her to become so infested with fleas that she was anemic. The hospital will likely never see one penny of the money they are owed, and it appears my colleagues, most of whom have never handled an animal case in their entire careers, think the vet was the bad guy here. No wonder vets hate lawyers.