Unshelved by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum
comic strip overdue media

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Filed with the Better Business Bureau

On 6/14 I took a cat I'd had for 17 years to the vet with problems breathing. I was obviously upset and unlike in the past, no amounts or the option of putting the cat to sleep were discussed. I had been a customer for many years and had worked out payment options and the vet and her staff were aware of my limited funds and desire not to let the animal suffer. Diagnostic and treatment came to $363, which I could not pay at the time but would try to bring in as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, two days after this, the cat died of this breathing problem. I took the cat to the vet for cremation, and a friend paid for the cremation up front and in full, specifically paying for the return of the cremains. When we returned to pick them up, I went to make a partial payment on my bill and was told:

1) that the person could not accept a partial payment (although she later told the office manager differently, both my friend and I heard her say she couldn't take it)
2) that although the cremains had been paid for, she could not hand them over until the vet bill was paid. My friend insisted these were separate issues, as he had paid for the remains and were due them, but they refused to give them.

I can understand the desire of the company to receive payment. I do not understand why they would not take payment on the account and furthermore find it unethical to hold the remains of a beloved pet hostage for money that frankly should not have been charged in the first place. If I had realised how expensive the treatment would be, I would have asked that he be put to sleep, given his age, suffering, and lack of long-term prognosis. Instead, I believe that the vet and her office staff took advantage of my emotions to milk as large a bill as possible, and the withholding of the remains was cruel. I cannot imagine the cremains of a person being withheld by a mortuary in this way because payment was due on a funeral, for example.

Fortunately a friend of the family is helping to meet the bill and I will hopefully be able to pick up the cremains in a day or two. I will make sure they have the cremains and that they will hand them over before paying in full, because at this point I would not be surprised if they disposed of the remains and would take my payment before 'discovering' that problem. Frankly my trust of this company is nil at the moment, which is unfortunate, because I came to this vet years ago after seeing how well my friend was treated during the deaths of his pets.

I cannot describe how utterly wrenching it was on Friday when I went to get Spock's cremains and the vet office held his ashes hostage for payment of my bill. The cremation and the return of the remains, for one, were already paid for and really a separate transaction from the office visit. A friend had paid for that and he should have been able to pick up the cremains. Instead, I was told that they would hold them until payment was received in full, and when I had tried to make a partial payment, the vet tech had specifically said, 'I can't take that'.

I can understand withholding a product until it has been paid for...but this had been. Also, this wasn't a product. This was a beloved 17-year-old cat who had just died gasping for breath in my arms two weeks before.

A friend of the family, upon hearing this--who also has been with this vet for years and years--was especially concerned that at no point were finances discussed during the office visit. I went into that visit fully expecting to have to put Spock to sleep; that was never an issue and frankly I was so upset that when hope was given I clung to it. She believes that they used my emotions to pump up the amount as much as possible. She is also afraid they'll get rid of the cremains if it goes on very long, so she's helping me out with the bill so I can pick them up in the next couple of days.

The thing is, I've been with this vet for years, have always paid them (although we've had to do payment arrangments several times). They knew that I didn't have this sort of money to spend on a lot of tests and treatments that in the end might not do a bit of good (and didn't) for an ancient cat. What's sad is I changed to this vet based on how well I saw a friend treated when his animals had to be put to sleep. Neither with Spock or with Buns have I had the same sort of care given as that which brought me to the place in the first place. I have to admit, I'm pretty angry about that. At this point, I want to pay and 'never darken their door again' to quote the friend of the family, and neither I nor my friend want these people touching our animals again if money means more than appropriate care or ethics.

I'll keep you posted on how it goes. I should reiterate that I dealt with a vet tech and office manager; the vet herself would not come out and talk with us. This weekend, before I got the call about help with the bill, my friend and I fully expected to have to launch a 'Free Spock' campaign--and I'm not joking. I was going to contact my EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) for legal advice as to whether what they were doing is legal. It looks like that may not be necessary, but I did still file with the BBB, because if it could happen to me, it could happen to someone else. In the meantime, the vet has lost at least two customers over this. They may not care about that, but I do.

Oh, and just so you know...here's the details of the vet office:

Dr Kimberly Sears
Village Drive Animal Hospital
1825 Alexandria Drive
Lexington, KY 40504

They don't have a website that I can find. But just for the record, this was my experience. Your results may vary. In the meantime, if anyone knows of a good vet on the eastern side of Lexington, let me know. I live off of Richmond Road and Man o'War.

My thanks to those who have helped me through this situation. I couldn't have made it without you. And thanks to YKWIA for being there with me at the office to serve as a witness, be my voice, and giving them the hell they deserved.

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