Saturday, February 28, 2009

Emergency Redux

On December 13, 2008 I posted about the Emergency Clinic experiences of three different pet owners. Of the three, only the cat owner had what seemed like a really good outcome. At least her cat was still alive which was more than could be said of two dogs and one puppy belonging to the other two pet owners. Sadly, more has come to light about the cat owner's experience and I can't decide if I'm sickened or just furious. Here's what transpired. There will be no names mentioned, nor will I say where it occurred. It could happen anywhere, to any pet owner.

The pet owner in question is a medical professional so she's not an uninformed individual. She also adores her cats and dogs and has done a good deal of rescue work. Her health, of late, has not been what it should have been which has meant that she could only drive when she felt she could do so safely. (A recent surgery should have resolved that issue.) She had brought the cat to the Emergency Hospital as reported earlier, where it was discovered that he had ingested a piece of jewelry dropped by a neighbor's child, that had cut him up internally. You already know that he survived that episode but here's the short version of what I have discovered since then.

Complete bloodwork was done, hence, it should have been analyzed. He also had an upper respiratory problem. They would only look at one thing even though she had his care transferred to a specialist who specialized in respiratory issues. Not only did that specialist not check for that issue but the owner was told she'd have to make a separate appointment with the specialist at her practice for that. Nor did the specialist at any time talk with the owner on the phone. Further, they did not do a complete enough workup, despite having complete bloodwork, to tell her if there were something else going on besides the issue with the swallowed item.

Not being able to travel to the hospital each day, but calling many times around the clock, the hospital staff implied that she was a bad owner for not being at the hospital! Nothing could be further from the truth. She desperately wanted to be there but couldn't drive and there was no one to take her there. A friend who is an experienced cat owner and also has health problems, said she'd go visit the cat in the hospital. The owner made arrangements, calling to give permission. When the woman traveled all the way across town to the hospital, they refused her admittance to see the cat. The owner had never denied any tests or treatment, despite the cost. She was well aware of the fact that Emergency hospitals are expensive. She wanted the best care for her cat. And they would not allow a friend to visit in her stead to reassure her that she had seen the cat and spent some quality time with him.

You may be thinking that all of these things are trivial since the cat survived but there's more. The records were to be sent to her regular veterinarian so that he could follow up and would have the bloodwork. When the cat got sick again, becoming quite lethargic, she discovered that the records had never been sent to her veterinarian from the Emergency hospital. He had no opportunity to see the results of the lab work.

She took the cat to another specialty hospital to see a well-respected respiratory specialist along with another of her cats who was displaying respiratory symptoms. The older cat's problem is the result of something structural but she's essentially fine.
She thought the younger cat's problem was his respiratory issue which seemed to be worse and wasn't responding to antibiotics

More bloodwork was done on the young cat at the referral hospital. The little guy had to stay to be rehydrated and he needed more tests to try to determine what was at the root of his problem. The resulting bloodwork showed that the young cat was in kidney failure! That should have been discovered at the Emergency hospital, had they properly interpreted the bloodwork. If they had sent the records to her regular veterinarian, he could have discovered the kidney problem and the little guy could have been started on subcutaneous fluids immediately at home to prevent exactly the dehydration and lethargy that resulted from lack of diagnosis.

Frankly, I call this bad medicine. I believe that it is important for veterinarians to look at the entire animal. Yes, treat the emergency for which he was admitted but if the bloodwork tells you that something else is going on, then tell the client that there's another problem as well. First Do No Harm. And why didn't they follow through by sending the records to the client's veterinarian? Why did they repeatedly infer that the owner is a bad owner? Why did they refuse to allow the owner's friend to see the cat when the owner had called specifically to give permission?

That hospital saved the cat from one problem but allowed his kidney problem to go undiagnosed when they had all of the information in their hands and added further to their mistake by not sending a copy of the records to the client's veterinarian. They allowed the cat to suffer because they missed the diagnosis or didn't care enough to properly interpret the bloodwork.

How many other Emergency Hospitals function this way? How many clients are mistreated? How many diagnoses are missed when the information is in the bloodwork results that are right in front of them? This could have happened anywhere. To anyone. This isn't a story. This is real. It happened.

My heart aches for this owner, this cat, and for all of those others who may have suffered from a similar experience.

By and large, veterinarians are excellent practitioners. Be sure you have fully investigated all Emergency options before you need emergency care. Ask questions. If the State Board keeps records of formal complaints, ask if there are any against that hospital or any specific veterinarians who practice there. Sadly, too few people report these issues. Caveat emptor: let the buyer beware.

Yes, the one "good" Emergency hospital in my previous blog post wasn't so "good" after all.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Having Faith

So many people have seen Faith, the two-legged dog on various television programs, walking on her hind legs. It’s not unusual to wonder about her, about her life and the family that adopted her.

Faith was born in 2002, just before Christmas. She wasn’t the only deformed puppy in the litter but she was the only one of those deformed puppies to survive and is the one one of the litter who was adopted by Jude Stringfellow and her family in Oklahoma. Faith’s mother, Princess, is thought to be mostly Chow Chow. About three weeks after her birth Faith was rescued by Jude’s son, Reuben, who jumped over the fence into the flea market that Princess was raised to guard. Reuben was accompanied by his friend, Johnny, who owned Princess. Princess was trying to kill the deformed puppy but Reuben managed to snatch her out from under Princess and, tucking her into his football jersey, he brought the tiny pup home.

“We accepted her immediately because we don't believe in treating any animal or person differently just because of a handicap or disability,” says Jude. “I would call what Faith has done for us a concerted effort between herself and Jesus to change my hard ways of looking at life. I was in a bad place at the time we got Faith both financially and emotionally. She taught me, and my family that being complete doesn't mean looking complete, or having money. We all have a unique and genuine purpose that only we can fill. She may not have realized it, but she was the perfect fit to our dysfunctional family - - she was the thumb that crossed over our fingers to make us one fist of a family. Before she came along we were all connected, but in many ways we were not working together. She changed that,” she explains.

When Reuben brought Faith to us she had three legs, but the left front leg was badly deformed, placed backward, upside down, and it had more toes on it than is normal. The leg was removed when she was seven months old when it began to atrophy. People ask Jude if it was easy to teach Faith to walk upright. The answer is that it was neither easy nor natural. According to Jude it was “Super natural.” She states clearly that she gives the credit to a high power and to Faith in every sense of the word.

Faith was given an Honorary Commission as an E5 SGT in the U.S. Army in June 2006. She was commissioned out of Ft. Lewis near Seattle, WA. There were many many soldiers and civilians in attendance who cheered her on as she accepted her Commission. She even has her own custom-made ACU jacket with the American Flag and Department of Defense patch. No, she can’t be deployed and she has no official benefits. Faith makes therapy dog visits giving hope, love, and yes, faith.

Not surprisingly, Jude Stringfelllow wrote a book about her family’s wonderful dog, “With a Little Faith.” And there will be a movie of her life. It’s currently in pre-production.

“Not one thing is different about Faith really,” says Jude. “She makes just as many messes, and farts just as many times as the other dogs do! She was more difficult to train only because what we had to train her to do. She was actually quite easy to potty-train - it was the upright thing that set her apart from the other dogs in my life. She has been very well behaved and has had the best disposition of any dog I've known personally. She rarely gets upset and if she does it is rightfully so. She is a bit shy of men only because she cannot fight. She barks or walks away so that there isn't a problem. She has always been drawn to children who are around her height or bigger - she smells all the babies too, just to see if they'll play with her or not.”

There are lessons to be learned. Faith didn’t just change a family. She’s touched the hearts and lives of many people. There’s obviously a reason why she was saved. We could all use a little Faith in our lives.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Kathryn Hopper and Fritz the Brave

Yesterday I lost a colleague. Kathryn Hopper, a member of the Cat Writers' Association, died far too young. Only in her 40s, she should have had many more years on earth yet she did more with the years she had than most.

Kathryn was in a shelter when she was captivated by a 6 year old Siamese. She brought Fritz home not knowing that he had feline asthma. She not only nursed this sick cat, she set about helping others. Ultimately, Fritz died but Kathryn was unceasing in her efforts to research this disease and to help other owners whose cats also had asthma.

She was in almost constant contact with Dr. Philip Padrid and made his resources available on the website she created: The site became the ultimate reference source for anyone interested in learning more about this disease and helping the cats with feline asthma.

My heart aches at the thought of a world that has been diminished by this loss, of grieving family and friends. But she leaves a wonderful legacy.