My dog Hudson was sick. Very sick. He’d been doing great even though he has megaesophagus and the complications that go with it. He was playing and eating and going for walks — he was old, happy being grumpy, and engaged with life. The trouble happened because I’d gone on a trip and left him with a sitter and he hadn’t kept his anti-vomiting medicine down, which he takes for megaesophagus. He was puking and puking so I decided to take him to a gastro specialist at an animal hospital in New York City where I’d had a good experience before. I felt that all he needed was an injection of his medicine to get him back on track.
I must confess that when I take my dogs to the vet, I tend to be too trusting, especially of specialists. Sometimes I have trouble speaking my mind. You know the scene — white coats and impressive machines and that disconcerting omniscient look a vet can have. Yes, I can be intimidated. Or, I should say I once could be intimidated.
On the way to the hospital in a pet taxi, Hudson was very anxious and, thus, was having trouble breathing. I wasn’t too worried because I assumed they’d take good care of us — boy, was I wrong!
Imagine the animal hospital — sick pets with their very worried people, bright lights, frenzied nurses, and concerned-looking doctors. It’s a regular human ER. And it’s NYC so up it a bit.
It’s as if we’re there now …
Hudson is rushed to an oxygen tank as soon as we check in. I wait and wait in the waiting room (so aptly named). Finally, I’m showed into a checkup room and meet someone I think is the specialist. Turns out to be a resident, a young woman who has the makings of a great vet but absolutely no ability to communicate with a patient’s owner.
“Lung cancer!” she says after mentioning that they already took X-rays of Hudson. I’m starting to sweat a bit because I can’t get a word in edgewise. You know the feeling (though usually it’s the human doctors who act like this).
“OK,” I say, “he very well may have lung cancer.” (Why did they take an X-ray without my consent?) “If so, we’re not going to treat that at his age [which is 13]. But we can treat his vomiting.” She frowns and persists that this is very serious and that he shouldn’t go home. I demand to see my dog and start planning an escape.
I walk into the oxygen room. Hudson has his ears up in his tank looking at me, like, can’t we go home? Just as I am ready to request his release, a vet in the room corners me — really corners me, in a corner. I start to feel as if I might faint as she bombards me with comments about my selfishness and cruelty if I don’t put Hudson to sleep right then and there!
I try to explain through growing tears that he’s still enjoying life; this is just a setback. For one very brief moment, I falter — am I keeping him alive because I just lost my other dog? Don’t these vets know what they’re talking about?
But, no! Something inside me bursts. Every fiber of my being knows that this is wrong. I demand a shot of Hudson’s vomiting med, I demand Hudson himself, and I push my way through this bullying vet’s dark aura. I think I brilliantly said, “A vet‘s first tenet is to ‘do no harm,’” but I may have just said it in my head. Woo-hoo! Brave dog owner overcomes!
Hudson was fine by the time we got home and has continued to be OK, except for an occasional bad pukey day and an abscess (which is another story), for four months going.
It wouldn’t have mattered, though, if Huddie had passed away the next day. The point is: Vets should not bully an owner into deciding at that moment in the hospital or office about putting her dog to sleep. This is unbelievably unprofessional and, yes, cruel. And probably selfish, too. If, on top of the worry and stress of having a sick dog, you are also a more soft-spoken, retiring sort of person, it’s an even worse experience.
If a vet tells you that she recommends euthanasia and explains why, this is professional. If she tries to bully you into a decision when you disagree with her, get the hell out of there and take your dog with you if you can. Breathe and trust your intuition and get a second opinion if you like.
Be the spokesperson for your dog! If you’re meek like I was, build up that confidence by being informed about your dog’s issues — after all, an owner knows her dog better than a doctor, even a specialist.
Have you had a similar experience with a vet? If so, how did you handle it? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!
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