Animal Abuse and Denial of Care

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Over the past few years, many animals hospitals in Canada have been taken over by VCA Canada. VCA Canada is a division of Mars (yes, the American chocolate bars company), owned by Jacqueline Mars, who is worth $24.7 billion. 

As chocolate is toxic to dogs, so is Mars and VCA Canada. The company exploits its monopoly position to relentlessly pursue profits no matter the cost to pets and their owners, with complete disregard for the law or any ethical considerations. After all, Jacqueline needs to get richer.  

This highly dysfunctional business model with no regard for the welfare of animals is best demonstrated by the practices of VCA Canada Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital, in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Horror stories abound. From staff refusing to perform CPR to save a pet because the owner hasn't had the time to pay a deposit, to unnecessary procedures solely designed to generate revenue, to staff being abusive to both animals and clients, and of course, to veterinary costs being up to 10 times more expensive than those of other veterinary clinics. 

The most disturbing recent event remains that of Buddy, a Siberian Husky (we changed the name as staff from VCA Canada Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital threatened the owner with false harassment charges if he was to go public with his story). Buddy was taken to Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital, the only emergency clinic in the area, on 24 February 2018.

Buddy was in desperate need of emergency medical care, namely an urgent blood transfusion to treat a non-regenerative anemia, as well as antibiotic treatment via IV to address an underlying infection. Buddy was referred by another veterinary practice that did not have the capability to provide the blood transfusion.

Upon arrival, staff failed to even look at the dog's medical file forwarded to the emergency clinic by his regular treating veterinarian. Instead, Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital staff spent all resources to coerce the owner, as a condition of providing emergency care to his dog, to agree to an extensive list of unnecessary and unapproved procedures, for a total amount of over $6,500.

This included a biopsy under sedation the owner had specifically refused as it would have likely led to the dog's death due his weakened condition.

Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital, however, would not accept to treat the dog, and provide the life saving blood transfusion, without the owner not only agreeing to all the unnecessary procedures, including one likely to kill the dog, but also signing a blanket authorization agreeing to Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital performing any procedure whatsoever, at their discretion and without owner's approval, on the dog.

With no alternatives, and with his dog on the verge of death, the owner submitted to Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital coercion, and agreed to their terms.

Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital then demanded that the owner pre-pay the full amount of estimated costs, including unwanted procedures, for a total of $6,500. The owner having left home abruptly, didn't have his wallet, and indicated he would just pay upon picking up his dog. Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital refused, and demanded payment. Owner offered a company check as collateral. Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital refused and suggested he go to an ATM to get cash. When the dog's owner indicated that there was no bank opened on a Saturday night, and no ATM would dispense $6,500 cash, Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital suggested that he go to a cheque cashing service. All while the dog was in medical distress.

It is important to note that Buddy was fully insured for any and all medical costs by the largest insurance company in North America. His owner did not display any sign of not being able to afford care for his dog and had never failed to pay any veterinary bill in any country. As a matter of fact, the owner was even sporting a $20K Panerai watch, and was wearing several thousand dollars worth of outdoor equipment. He was also driving a recent full-size truck. Furthermore, Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital was unable (or unwilling) to provide Buddy's owner with the legal name of their company, despite asking him for full pre-payment.

Unable to come up with $6,500 cash on the spot and on a Saturday night in a foreign country, and with Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital refusing to provide emergency life-saving treatment, Buddy's owner went back to his truck, with his dying dog, looking at securing an aircraft to fly his dog to Vancouver or the U.S. for care. 

In the meantime, however, one of his friends having been made aware of the situation called in a credit card number to the clinic which then agreed to treat Buddy.

Upon returning to the clinic, staff appeared very frustrated, and Ann, a technician with a history of negative reviews from other clients, became abusive to Buddy. She dragged him by the collar, "like a hog being dragged to his death in a slaughter house in Africa", and even hit the dog's head in the door frame. The owner was appalled and told Ann that if he didn't desperately need care for his dog, he would have called the police over the abuse. He was threatened as a result with being reported as abusive to women if he dared speak up about the incident. Being a man, at the mercy of any claim of abuse or harassment by women, he didn't answer and left the premises.

While Buddy was in intensive care and receiving the blood transfusion, the owner requested on at least two separate occasions that the dog be also provided antibiotics by IV, as instructed by his regular treating veterinarian. However, Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital never provided treatment by IV, due to its low cost, and the potential to optimize revenue by allowing the dog's state to degrade further, requiring additional, more costly procedures.

As soon as the blood transfusion was successfully completed on Buddy, his owner advised Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital that he was discharging his dog and expressly prohibited staff from pursuing any additional procedures.

When the owner returned to Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital, he asked to get an update from a veterinarian. He was advised that, despite having been overcharged thousands of dollars over 24 hours, he had to pay another $135 to talk to a veterinarian about his dog.

He refused and asked for his final bill, which turned out to be less than the pre-payment that had been made by credit card, as he had removed the dog before Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital could torture him with additional needless procedures. Yet, Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital was first unable to process the refund on the credit card, causing more delays and aggravation.

The owner left Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital with his dog, and advised them it had been the worst experience of his life involving any veterinary practice anywhere in the world.

A few days later, on 2 March 2018, while Buddy's owner was lying in bed with his dying dog scheduled for euthanasia the next day, Nathan Schenn, the general manager for Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital, who has no credential whatsoever in veterinary medicine and whose professional experience is primarily in sales, called him to discuss his experience.

Buddy's owner advised Nathan Schenn that it wasn't a good time as he was spending his last moments with his dying dog. Nathan Schenn showed complete disregard for the situation and the fact Buddy was dying, and he kept insisting that Buddy's owner talk to him. Buddy's owner suggested that Nathan either email him later or call him back another day. Again, Nathan Schenn would not take no for an answer, and kept harassing Buddy's owner. When Nathan Schenn indicated that Buddy's owner had been abusive to his staff, Buddy's owner indicated that trying to place the blame on him was utterly appalling under the circumstances, and he terminated the call.

On March 7, 2018, Nathan Schenn of VCA Canada Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital sent a registered letter to Buddy's owner, accusing him of abuse for hanging up on him, and of issuing verbal threats to his staff. Nathan Schenn further indicated that Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital would no longer provide any treatment to Buddy, including emergency treatment (and would therefore let the dog die).

As of the date of this article, our requests to Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital, VCA Canada, and Nathan Schenn for a statement were unanswered. 

A letter from the counsel of Buddy's owner, advising Nathan Schenn and Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital that denying emergency medical treatment to a dog in distress constituted a crime under the Canada Criminal Code, and a violation of ethical standards set forth by the College of Veterinarians of British Columbia was ignored.

Since this incident, Buddy's owner reported the animal abuse incident to Victoria Police Department (Police Report 2018-9918), as well as the British Columbia SPCA. A complaint is also pending with the College of Veterinarians of British Columbia. 

Buddy has since died.

Sadly, at the end of the day, VCA Canada is in the business of making money. Nothing else. And they will do so at any cost. They will completely disregard animal welfare coercing owners to accept procedures staff know are not in the best interest of the animal, even refusing to perform more effective procedures if the chargeable cost to owner is deemed too low. They will abuse animals, like livestock in a slaughterhouse, because they are only able, in their inherently toxic and underpaid corporate work environment, to retain unqualified, mean, abusive, mentally unstable, and frustrated veterinary technicians that should never be allowed to get close to animals. When a client dares to complain, they will harass him, and even threaten false abuse charges to silence him. When this fails, they will ban the client, even though denying medical emergency service to a dying and suffering dog in a crime under Canadian law, is a straight up violation of the College of Veterinarians of British Columbia ethical standards, and will unavoidably result to the animal's death as VCA Canada holds a monopoly in many markets, including on Vancouver Island. 

Ultimately, VCA Canada, and Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital, is the worst thing that could ever happen to your dog.

Þór Þórðarson

Reykjavík, Iceland