Way back in the mists of time, I was at a party when a guest asked me if there was a veterinarian I would recommend. She was new in town and there were several to choose from, so she was doing the smart thing and getting referrals from the locals.
I mentioned the name of the clinic I used and I discussed how much I liked the vets there and what good care my cats and I had received from the vets and staff there.
The man standing next to me then jumped into the conversation: "I’m never going back there again! Doctor X killed my little dog!"
Later, I realized that a lot of people feel the same way — if their pets die while under a vet’s care, they don’t go back to that vet. But I’m not one of them.
It’s easy to say, "I’d never do X or Y" if you’ve never been in a situation where you’ve had to make that judgment call. But this isn’t a hypothetical issue for me: One of my beloved cats did die while she was in my vet’s care.
It was one of those one-in-a-million situations. I’d brought my Kissy in for a leg amputation. Everything went great before and during the surgery. She came out of anesthesia just fine; in fact, I watched the operation and I was stroking her head and telling her what a brave kitty she was as she regained consciousness.
A couple of hours later, everything went sideways, and a day that began with high hopes ended in tragedy.
If this had happened to your cat, you might be one of those people who’d never go back to that vet.
I wasn’t, and here’s why.
I knew my vet well and I trusted her. She was always honest and upfront with me. She went out of her way — waaaay out of her way — to get information and consultation from veterinary specialists about possible options for treating Kissy’s leg deformity and resulting chronic pain. She went to similar lengths for my other cats, too.
I know enough to understand that death really is a potential outcome of any surgery. It’s an extremely rare outcome in pets who appear healthy prior to a procedure, but it does happen. When it does, it’s rarely the vet’s fault. Some cats just get dealt a crappy hand.
The fact that the clinic staff treated me with such class and compassion after Kissy died also left me feeling good about going back there with my other cats. Before I even asked, they offered to pay for her private cremation and some extra touches like a ceramic impression of her pawprint and a tuft of her fur. I got the sense that they probably would have refunded me the cost of the surgery if I’d asked, but I didn’t ask: They performed a great service for Kissy by giving her the opportunity to live pain-free for the first time in her life. Even if it didn’t end well, their time and skill and the extra distance they went to try and save her life has emotional and financial value, and I respect that.
For me, it boils down to this: Once you have a veterinarian you like and trust, and whom your cats also like and trust, you don’t ditch them because of a one-in-a-million tragedy. If I still lived in Maine, I’d still be going to that clinic, and I still continue to recommend that clinic to people looking for a vet in my old hometown.
Has one of your cats died while under a veterinarian’s care? Did you keep going to that vet, or did you change vets? Why did you make the choice you did? Let’s talk in the comments.
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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.