When a Veterinarian Links up with a Pet Shop that sells puppies and kitties

Here’s a dirty little secret pet stores and vets don’t want you to know (and one we learned the hard way): If you buy a dog or cat from a pet store they almost always give you 1-2 free wellness visits at a vet of their choosing.

She is too sick to even lift her head up or walk

I highly recommend that if you do choose to buy a dog (I do not condone this but given that I bought Zoey in a store, it would kind of be like the pot and kettle) that you go to a vet of YOUR choice.  I understand that this option will cost you money whereas the pet store/vet option is free, but more important is the confidence that you are receiving an unbiased opinion from the vet of your choosing instead of having to wonder about which master the pet store vet is serving, you or them.

When a vet does decide to form a relationship with a pet store, the owner and his/her pet is the likeliest loser.  The vet will usually lower prices or even provide a free first or second visit to the new animal owner in order to gain that new account.  In the case of being brought a sick animal, the pet store owner is likely to bombard the vet with phone calls to learn more about the new pet’s health, likely an attempt by the store owner to devise a way to avoid potential lawsuits from aggrieved pet owners.  These pet store owners will also try to persuade the vets to omit certain phrases that would implicate the pet store for possibly having provided negligent care or even having sold a defective puppy (legally referred to as a “lemon”).

I recently found this amazing article, “Why a Relationship With a Pet Shop is Like a Pact with the Devil.”  It is very well written and has useful insight from the veterinarian’s perspective.  The following is a quote that I love:

“While on the surface it may seem like a great practice builder, I’d respectfully submit to these veterinarians that forging such an alliance is like entering into a pact with the devil; it’s fraught with perilous moral ground that pits our professionalism, our ethics and indeed our licenses against what we’ve implicitly decided is best for our businesses.”

You can find the article in its entirety here http://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/vet-practice-news-columns/reality-check/why-a-relationship-with-a-pet-shop-is-like-a-pact-with-the-devil.aspx

Our experience after first purchasing Zoey is illustrative of the worst case scenario.  When she became sick on the day after we received her, I knew to go to my own vet.  However, my vet was out of town.  At this point, we still trusted the pet store (we had actually had a good relationship before and during the purchasing process) and went to the vet it recommended, which also provided us two free visits.

The vet who saw our puppy Zoey indicated that she was merely dehydrated and proceeded to fill her with medication that actually masked her true symptoms and did not help her.  Upon leaving the vet, I decided to call the pet store to inform them of what was taking place (remember, we were still “friends” at this point).  The person who picked up told me that, “the owner is currently on the phone with the vet now.”  Imagine this scenario: just minutes after I had left the vet, perhaps even before my dog was given the medication that could help her feel better, the vet thought it was more important to call the pet store owner to keep him in the loop.  Unbelievably, the vet was actually in closer contact with the pet store than with me, even though my dog was its’ client.  Could there be any clearer evidence that the pet store, not the pet owner, is the vet’s primary client?

When I returned to the vet that evening to pick up Zoey, she was brought out lifeless, unable to walk or even to hold her head up.  Despite this clearly deplorable condition, the vet informed me that since the practice didn’t have 24-hour service, he recommended that we take her home, force feed her medications and fluids with a syringe, continue the medications and monitor her condition; if she didn’t improve, we should bring her back in the morning.  I was immediately filled with a sense of dread that this diagnosis and action plan was in actuality a death sentence for my poor little dog — there was no way she would last the night without acute care.

She was barely alive when we took her from the pet store vet to the animal hospital.

Before taking Zoey across town to a vet hospital that could indeed provide 24-hour care, I spoke to Zoey’s attending vet (the same person who had been on the phone with the pet store earlier) about my feelings regarding his relationship with the pet store, essentially that I felt as if the pet store was his primary focus and that I believed he was as interested in providing the pet store plausible deniability in case my dog passed away from her illnesses.  He responded that, “all vet clinics do it” and, with a sense of shame, “we have to make money too.”

Thereupon, I immediately took Zoey to NYC Vet Specialists, where she was admitted to the ICU upon arrival, where she stayed for the next 2+ days.  She was given an intense dose of medication (a friend who is a nurse later told me Zoey had received the same meds as a human who is in cardiac arrest), provided fluids intravenously, watched like a hawk and given the time to finally work her way back to health.  If it had not been for the amazing care Zoey received at NYC Vet Specialists, we know that she wouldn’t have made it.

While Zoey was in the hospital, the vets there were bombarded by phone calls from both the pet store and the first vet begging them to discharge the dog and send her back for further care; inquiries were also made about the size of the bill being racked up.  After being informed by NYC Vet Specialists of the number of phone calls it was receiving, we finally had to ask them not to accept any additional calls from either the vet or the pet store owner.  At that point, the pet store owner began contacting me at home and by cellphone begging me to take the dog back to his vet.

By now, we had finally connected most, if not all of the dots and decided that we were in a den of proverbial thieves who cared more about saving their own financial bacons than the health of our dog.  As you all know by now, Zoey fought her way through her hospital stay and made it home a few days later, weak but unbowed and ready to make the most of her second chance at life.  And we had learned our first harsh lessons about the dark underbelly of pet stores and vets.

We are fortunate enough to be able to afford what was a very large hospital bill incurred during Zoey’s stay and to find a lawyer who was well-versed in New York’s Lemon Laws, which enabled us to recoup the cost of the dog from the pet store owner, even though the contract we had signed indicated that we were not entitled to any.  But many new pet owners are not so fortunate; it is for them that I began this blog to educate and illuminate.  I have subsequently heard of many horror stories wherein innocent new pet owners have been taken advantage of by pet stores and have lost their animal within days of purchase.  Many times, inadequate veterinary care did not help matters, possibly because the vet was really serving two masters (or is it one?).

This blog post is not intended to slur all vets or all pet stores; certainly, the wide majority (at least of the former) have good intentions.  But because there are bad actors in both communities, I urge every new pet owner to find their own veterinarian that they are comfortable with and are sure that they (the owner) are the vet’s sole priority.  In some cases, this might mean the difference between your pet’s life and death.

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  1. zoeystory
    Posted February 4, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Oooh, good point! I didn’t even think about it like that but I guess whoever pays is the client to the vet. It just seems so backwards when the patient is legally yours. Very interesting! Thanks for the tip!

  2. Posted February 4, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    It’s also important to note that when a pet store is paying the bill to the vet then the pet store is legally the client, instead of the pet owner. It’s always best to see a vet of your own choice.

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