Abusing Veterinary Staff

Self-mutilating Bird

Sometimes working in a vet clinic can break you.  It doesn't surprise me that the veterinary industry has a higher suicide rate than any other industry.  There is a general attitude that vets are only in it for the money.  That vets over-service and over-charge.  The abuse veterinary staff receive continues to amaze me.  The knowledge that the animal owned by the person calling the clinic is having trouble breathing, but they can't bring it in right now because they're too busy...can they bring it in after work? You know they're going to abuse you later, when you and the other staff can't save the animal because it's too late when they finally come in...  Those scenarios (and worse) happen at every vet clinic, EVERY SINGLE DAY.  This abuse happens to people who do this work because they love and want to help animals and have dedicated their lives to that.

In the past, I haven't been overly public about the rescue work that I do because I don't want to get any more inundated than I am.  I'm re-looking at this decision though as maybe people need to know what happens behind the scenes in rescue work and behind the scenes at a vet clinic.  It might be the only way we see some change in the public's view of vets only being in it for the money.  It might even help people see what birds go through too.

This article is about one of those cases that veterinary staff lose sleep over and it gets a little graphic.  So if you need one, that's your trigger warning.

A guy bought some lovebirds from a pet store.  In his very first consult, he said that he came to the bird vet because he was mad that the pet store had ripped him off.  Since he got the birds, one of them had started tearing into itself until it was bleeding.  Note this happened AFTER he got the birds.  The bird wasn't bleeding when he bought it.  Which, unless you do tests to show the bird was carrying a disease or illness, makes it harder to say the pet store is at fault. He wanted paperwork from the vet in order to pursue the store for this.

self-mutilating bird

Meanwhile, the bird was in a bad way.  Very deep cuts.  The vet laid out the options, from the absolute minimum to stop suffering, to more in depth treatment and tests.  The owner declined getting the cuts stitched up under anaesthetic.  The owner declined blood tests to find out why the bird was doing this.  The owner declined hospitalising the bird.  The owner declined booking in for a behavioural consultation.  He opted for the quickest, cheapest fix on the table.  He took what the vet offered as the minimum to stop suffering.  Drugs and a bandage.  The vet was polite in her notes but there's got to be some level of frustration felt when writing the word: "Declined."  Unfortunately, that's the owner's choice.  The vet had wanted and asked to stitch the wound up under anaesthetic, humanely.  The non-anaesthetic bandage might work, but really it's little more than a bandaid.

In the following weeks,  the owner came back for follow-up.  He never allowed the vets to do anything more than had already been done.  Staff were writing in the notes that he was repeatedly refusing hospitalisation and anaesthetics.  The words "He just wants a bandage done without an anaesthetic like last time" were written by a nurse in appointment notes.  He kept paying for a consult fee, antibiotics, pain meds, a collar to stop the bird getting to its shoulder, and a bandage.  He did do a disease screening test for pbfd (this rules out one disease and is a requirement by most boarding facilities) and a DNA sex test to confirm if the bird and its friend were male or female (which was not about the self-mutilating, just determining gender).  Over the next few months these repeat visits financially added up, but nothing was ever done to find out why the bird was hurting itself.  The owner continually declined blood tests and demanded the vet just keep trying to bandage the wound with the bird still conscious (which wasn't always possible so no bandage happened those times).

The owner bought so many toys for these birds, a beautiful cage, he was providing a top quality diet. He was trying.  In 5 visits, he spent just over $800 on these birds at the vet.  If I break that down, an average consult fee is $90 (so there's 5 of them), the gender tests he wanted (both birds) would total $120, the disease screening test was another $90, collars are roughly $30 each.  The remaining small amount of money was used on bandaging and medications.  Inevitably every vet consultation's allotted time was taken up by physically addressing actively bleeding wounds.

mutilating bird

The saddest part about this, the owner actually did care.  This isn't a bad person that I'm talking about.  He genuinely seemed to believe he was doing everything for this bird.  The problem was, he wasn't really hearing and comprehending that he was sticking a bandaid on the problem when he declined what the vet wanted to do to find and address the cause(s).  When he was declining things, it seemed to be because he believed the vet was offering expensive options like a $200 blood test or hospitalisation, just to make money.  The vet legally HAS to give him options.  They can't force him to pay for tests.  He's allowed to say no.  Vets can't guarantee the tests would give him the answers anyway, but without the tests, or the owner agreeing to keeping the bird at the clinic for the time required to administer hospital treatment... They can only offer general treatment for the symptoms they're seeing and procedures they can physically do in the short amount of time booked for a consultation.

I'm sure he'd be horrified to see it laid out like this.  I can almost hear him saying: "But no one ever told him he could do more!"  The words "declined" say otherwise to me.  It was said.  The tests and treatment were offered. Full disclosure? He declined behavioural consultations with me repeatedly too.  So I had no opportunity to pull this together and spell this out for him. Birds like this need psychological treatment as well as medical treatment.  So behavioural consultations were recommended and declined, as were medical tests and any more in-depth treatment.  So the problem persists, the bills add up.  The owner continues to feel he's spent a fortune.  The vet continues to feel awful too.  The bird stays in pain and keeps hurting itself.  It's a horrible vicious cycle and no one wins.

Unsurprisingly, the owner reached breaking point.  He couldn't handle having a bleeding bird anymore.  I actually can't begin to tell you the mental toll seeing a bird constantly in pain and hurting itself can take on a person. For an owner, this is just about the most heartbreaking condition you can witness.  You ask yourself if you're the cause?  You look at what you've done for the bird.  A small fortune in vet bills.  A beautiful cage.  A tonne of toys.  Expensive pellets and food.  What more can you do?  You get angry with whoever caused this.  The pet shop for selling you the defective bird in the first place.  The vet for not fixing the problem.

bird toys

So in this case, the owner decided to surrender his birds to a rescue.  He told the clinic he had chosen to pursue the pet store for damages.  He rang the clinic and demanded a copy of the vet's notes to help with this.  Here's where he got mad with the vet clinic.  The staff advised him that normally histories aren't sent out to owners, but to other clinics or organisations taking on a bird (like a rescue).  A vet's personal notes are their property and really only make full sense to the vet who wrote them.  When histories are requested a summary of what has been done is usually only sent out to professional organisations at the owner's request.  It's a policy most vet clinics have and it's there to protect vets from the relentless abuse they cop from owners who are prone to attacking vets for the slightest thing.  In an industry where suicide is a real problem, this is a basic thing clinics can do to protect their staff.

The owner got angry.  Insert a 1 star google review attacking the business for ripping him off here. At the time, he was unaware that vets and vet clinic staff inadvertently take those reviews personally.  It kills us when we've done everything the owner allowed us to do and yet we're accused of ripping him off.

Bad vet review

That said, the review caused a discussion.  The head vet, Dr. Phil actually spoke to the owner to hear his reasons for the review.  He decided that the owner had a point, owners should be able to get a summary of treatments.  Yes, his receipts have that anyway, but if he wants one that badly, give him one.  Let's take the feedback and change the policy to make it easier for owners to get a summary.  Meanwhile, a one star review does damage to the business.  It can stop people from getting help for their animals.  The owner was holding the vet clinic to ransom.  We don't want people to believe that review and not to get their pet help when they need it.  The owner opted for  blackmail. He agreed to remove the review but only if he gets his summary. He got his summary.

The owner, was told the impact that his review has on staff.  He now knows that online reviews affect mental health in an industry with the highest suicide rate.  Despite this, he broke his word and instead of removing the bad review, he changed it and added an extra star.  Now the review is even more personal:

bad vet review 2

Here's the thing, he is entitled to his opinion.  All I can say is: Hurt people, hurt people.  I can't help but wonder if this is something he does routinely?  His number of published reviews have been reduced by 2?  Sometimes google will remove reviews for breaching their policies, so maybe they've removed some for abuse?  Maybe he blackmailed other businesses with reviews and subsequently pulled them down?  Who knows?  You have to wonder.  Attacking the clinic.  Attacking the pet store.  There's definitely a pattern.

PLOT TWIST

So there's a twist to this story. There's something that the owner doesn't know.

Remember how I said he surrendered his birds to rescue?  Well, I want to be clear, there's no shame in that decision.  Like I said, there's nothing harder on someone than watching a bird hurt itself.  I also have to say, he did everything he could to ensure his birds will be ok at the rescue.  He sent the birds' cage and toys with them.  He donated a stack of stuff with them.  It's obvious to anyone that saw the pile of possessions that these birds had, that these birds were loved and a genuine effort was made into caring for them.  We're really not talking about an abusive animal hater here.  This is someone who tried.

The thing is, I'm not sure that people actually understand that the bird rescues are ALL overcrowded.  The end of covid has seen a huge number of surrenders.  Spring brings a huge number of lost birds.  Rescues are struggling and are only taking on really desperate cases, which is the category these lovebirds fall into.  Rescues know the toll self mutilation and plucking syndromes cause owners and they will help if they can.

Most of the bird rescues work with vet clinics.  Bird Vet Melbourne in Burwood heavily discounts bills for rescues.  We run fundraisers for them.  We attend and support fundraisers they run.  We do everything we physically can to help them.  Consequently, we're a drop off point for many rescues.

What isn't publicised is that high medical needs cases that come through the Burwood Clinic? It's usually me that takes them on.  The clinic helps with some of the cost, but I foster them.  I wear the bulk of the expense.  I physically make sure they're treated.  I'm the one medicating and seeing to these birds' daily needs.

Peaches

These two lovebirds weren't in great shape when they were surrendered.  One had an ear infection that hadn't been dealt with.  The other came in wearing a blood smeared collar with a wound that was now very advanced.  The medical bills and treatment aren't something the clinic is going to pass on to an already overwhelmed rescue.  So, by arrangement with the rescue, these birds have ended up fostering with me.

So that's the plot twist.  The bit the now former-owner doesn't know.  The people and the business that he is attacking? Are the ones that are actually helping his birds and they're doing it at their expense.  His review is designed to stop us from thriving as a business.  It's to stop clients coming to us.  It's a direct attack on the clinic's existence.  It directly attacks the staff saying we DO NOT CARE.  It actually impacts our ability to help the birds he cares about. We're clearly awful people.  A terrible business.  We clearly don't care about our patients.

So putting all of that aside, let's look on the bright side.  The birds now get whatever they need medically.  The shoulder and wing wounds are now so advanced that it's going to require stitching/multiple surgeries and you better believe that's going to include an anaesthetic.  Furthermore, the tests the vets have wanted to do, have now been done.  The tests did provide answers as to what's behind the self-mutilation and treatment has started.  Yes, the owner spent $839 on the birds at the clinic (not $1000 like he said in the review).  Yes, he did his best.  But, it's the clinic and its staff that are ultimately helping the birds.

So meet the lovebirds: Peaches and Cream.  I'll be sharing their story as it progresses.  Self-mutilation syndromes are treatable.  I think their story is important to share because people dealing with these conditions with their own birds need to know that.  Not to mention, it's nice to see some good come out of what can only be described as a horrible situation for all involved.

On behalf of all veterinary staff out there, please think twice before accusing a vet of ripping you off and not caring.  It's not likely to be true.

Cream

2 Comments

  1. Lisa N on September 20, 2023 at 10:11 am

    Thanks for sharing this sad story + one that didn’t need to progress as it did.

    I am forever indebted to all vets + staff for their love + care for treating all animals, including wildlife in distress.

    Many thanks again for all you do : love your work ūüĆľ

  2. Kylie on September 26, 2023 at 10:03 pm

    Thank you for sharing this story and for helping those birds (and all the other birds!).

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