Wednesday, February 24, 2010

CO Vet's Office FAIL

The city of Lafayette, CO has declared a 10 year old dog named "Spork" to be vicious and filed charges against the owners. Based upon your knowledge of these type of cases, have a go at these multiple guess questions:

What specifically did this "vicious dog" do?
  • Kill livestock?
  • Bite a neighborhood kid?
  • Attack someone's pet?
How about the owners - what are they accused of doing?
  • Allowing their dog to roam loose?
  • Leaving the dog on a chain for his entire life?
  • Failing to supervise their dog around a toddler?
If you guessed "None of the Above" (oops, I forgot to include that choice), you are correct. The owners of the vicious Spork (yeah I'm loving that name) are accused of taking their Miniature Dachshund to the Vet for routine care. Like many dogs, Spork is scared at the Vet's office. Very scared. He shakes. He loses control of his bowels. Vets see dogs like this regularly and usually know, or should know, that with these type of dogs, the owner can never hold the dog during examination. These dogs are not in a balanced state of mind during their Vet visits. And when an owner holds a dog, the owner becomes a physical extension of the dog. If that dog is already in an unbalanced state, the potential for a bite is very high.

So when the owner was told at the Vet visit to hold her dog and the technician put her face up to Spork's, he bit the technician's chin. State law in CO exempts veterinary workers from filing charges regarding dog bites. Somehow, the city found out about the incident (I think we can safely guess the owners did not contact the city about it) and served the owners with a citation. The owners hired a lawyer and are going to trial in April in an effort to save their dog:
The Walkers' attorney says the charges should be dismissed. "It'll put a scare, a fear into people with animals, that they can't bring their dogs or cats to health care facilities in the city of Lafayette for fear of criminal charges and fear their family friend will be euthanized," says Jennifer Edwards of the Animal Law Center.

The Walkers say they'll do anything to make sure their dog isn't euthanized. "Not everyone would spend their life savings protecting a 10-year-old dog, but we feel we need to."

I am hesitant to make generalizations about biting dogs but I'll go out on a limb here: Little dogs bite. Unlike big dogs, they can not physically resist something that makes them feel uncomfortable. They scream when they're panicked and they bite as a last resort. Those are their defenses in a world where everyone is bigger than they are and they can be picked up, held down, or inadvertently knocked over and trampled at any moment. Anyone who works in a Vet's office should know that a little dog presents a bite risk while at the office. Even more so for a dog who's scared. And still more for one who is overly scared and being held in the arms of his owner as you stick your face into his/their personal space.

From the information I've read about this incident, it seems like the Vet's office mishandled the situation which resulted in a staff member being bitten. Instead of using it as a learning experience, they (I'm guessing) reported the bite to the city, causing the owners terrible emotional and financial hardship. Ultimately, the dog may be locked up or killed.

At the Vets' offices I worked in (many moons ago), we had a box full of muzzles of all sizes and we placed a muzzle on any dog who was "questionable". Has Spork's veterinary office heard of these things? When I take my Chihuahua mix to the Vet's, I bring along her muzzle from home. She's never bitten anyone and I hope to keep it that way. I'd rather be safe than sorry - especially if sorry means the city might take my dog. Although I doubt my Vet would ever mishandle a situation so badly and then try to get authorities to kill my dog over their mistakes.

Spork does not deserve to be punished. Neither do his owners. I feel for them.
The idea that Spork is vicious is something Spork's owners have a hard time accepting. "Every night I tuck him into bed. If he doesn't have a blanket on him, he starts crying, I have to get up and make sure he's covered," Kelly Walker, Spork's owner says.
I hope that the city will come to their senses and drop this whole thing. I bet there are probably actual irresponsible owners in Lafayette who deserve citations. And I hope that Spork gets to spend many more nights in his bed, covered up by his blankie.


selkie said...

so so sad .. do these people not have anything better to do than create mayhem over people's dogs? My terrier cross is a bugger - I ALWAYS muzzle him when we go to the vet (hell, i muzzle him if we're out and about where there are people). My 92 lb shepherd is terrified as well - as a former junkyard dog who has been BEAUTIFUALLY rehabilitated, the one stickign point is the vet's. He gets diaharea and although he has NEVER bitten, I dont' take the chance - I muzzle him as well.

such stupidity.

Heather Houlahan said...

A vet or tech who is bitten during an exam or procedure is absolutely responsible for the bite. Period.

The vet's office should be footing the bill for Spork's defense.

If they don't, they should lose all their clients.

Anonymous said...

*If* the vet clinic reported the bite to the city, they are morons. Who in their right mind would take their dog to that clinic now that they've demonstrated that (1) they don't know how to handle frightened, stressed-out dogs and (2) they're ignorant and irresponsible.

Living in a small town, I will grant that it is entirely possible that word about the bite got to the city via second or third hand word - which still begs the question "whatever happened to veterinary confidentiality?"

According to the AVMA's Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics VII.C.

"Ethically, the information within veterinary medical records is considered privileged and confidential. It must not be released except by court order or consent of the owner of the patient."

However, the State of Colorado's Veterinary Medical Rules and Regulations conveniently omits any mention of confidentiality.

Anonymous said...

Themacinator here- can't log in.

All of this is unfortunate. My guess is that the tech needed medical attention- in most states hospitals are required to report skin-break bites to whoever handles animal control as part of rabies prevention, even though the chances of rabies is slim to none.

This adds another failure to this situation- whatever jurisdiction decided the dog falls under "vicious" definition rather than calling this a "provoked" bite (we would) needs to rethink their definitions. As u said, lots and lots of dogs fear the vet, and it's part of working at a vet/running a vet to know this. I'm sad the dog wasn't on a muzzle to begin with, but it sounds like the owners are stepping up now.

I do disagree re: big/small in this case. I declared a 15lb dog PDD yesterday. He is forward aggressive and his owner agreed, a huge liability. We sort of laughed that he had "little man syndrome" but I think the only truth to that is that because he's little, his temperament and behavior had been forgiven for way too long, making things worse. It also made him more dangerous because no one heeds his Very Big Warnings and wants to touch him anyway forgetting little dogs have teeth. This is neither here nor there on the vet case, just some thoughts on sizism ;)

YesBiscuit! said...

Just to be clear, when I worked in Vet offices, I was no more inclined to muzzle every single little dog than I was to muzzle every single Pitbull or Rottie. I just try to use common sense and experience to judge which dogs might be more of a bite risk and then to observe for any warning signs. If I recall correctly, we actually muzzled very few dogs in relation to the total number of dogs treated. Most dogs are tolerant, even when scared. I do believe they pick up on your intentions and karma, as it were.

YesBiscuit! said...

Another clarification: "Unlike big dogs, they can not physically resist something that makes them feel uncomfortable." What I meant there is that if a big dog is being walked into an exam room at the Vet's office and he is scared, he can sit or lie down as a means of physical resistance to the thing that he feels uncomfortable about. This is a defense mechanism. A little dog can not do this.
To add to the challenges with little dogs, many owners excuse or even coddle the dog's bad behavior which makes things worse, which is what I think you were touching upon Macinator.

Pibble said...

Um, not to be snarky (not me, never me) but why was the tech's face in the dog's face? Now that I've said that, I'm sorry the tech was bitten, but putting things into perspective, I always muzzle my dogs at the vet, even my Lucy, the most docile dog in the world. You never know what's going to happen, and you never know what the reaction will be - case in point, the City of Lafayette.

Anonymous said...

Oh, maybe 6 years ago I took my very shy girl into the vet for emergency surgery. She had a rock in her small intestine.

I made a point of letting everyone know that although she had never offered to bite she was

-very pain sensitive
-hated the vet office

So after surgery, she recovered more quickly than the technician assigned to sit with her expected. She got up and decided to wobble the hell out of there. The technician could have gotten a leash, but instead decided to grab her by the flanks.

The end result was the technician had her hand bitten. The tech got read the riot act and was told she was damn lucky it wasn't worse. I received an apology.

And to echo Pibble, what the hell was a vet tech doing sticking her face in the dogs face? Common sense FAIL all the way 'round.


YesBiscuit! said...

I love when all you smart people chime in with your theories and stories. I think the suggestion that the tech had to seek medical care and the hospital was obligated to report it sounds plausible but in that case, I still blame the clinic. The hospital can certainly ASK how the injury occurred and if you know who owns the dog and where they live but that information came from the vet clinic files. I doubt the hospital can legally compel you to provide that information. I'm guessing that someone(s) at the Vet clinic made the choice to give the owner's name and address to the hospital, *if* that's how the city got word of it.

Dawn-Renée said...

The vet tech is pursuing charges, as stated by a press release from Jasper Animal Clinic. Yes, the hospital is required to report animal bites to animal control. The tech actually had 1 inch sections of her upper and lower lips bitten off. Denver News 4 and the vet press release conflict a bit, but it sounds like the tech was going out to take the dog from the owner and for whatever reason ended up with her face in the dog's (duh, stupid). The press release link is posted on the Facebook group, "SAVE SPORK", as are links to Denver Channel 4's video.

For the record, I think this tech, who is supposedly pursuing charges because she wants him labeled "vicious" in case he ever bites someone else, doesn't have the common sense of a spoon. I also think that the JAH vet is playing a whole lot of CYA.

I say if this dog is labeled "vicious", then they also need to tattoo "dumbass" on the tech's forehead and sentence her to never working with animals again...but hey, what do I know? ;)

Len Gaska said...

Excellent article about Spork. I live in Lafayette and although the state has a law that exempts vets from filing such charges, the city has "home rule" which means they can set their own rules. I have uploaded two local tv reports about Spork.

Oh, and the tech required a visit to an ER and they reported it to the police. However, for charges to be filed, the vet tech had to press charges and the clinic is standing by her on that.

Gax said...

The thing that gets me is that Colorado state law exempts vet industry workers from, yet Lafayette wants to declare "home rule" to override this exemption so they can go on their witch hunt. Seriously?!
The Statute:

Pibble said...

A couple of years ago, I was bitten on the hand by one of the dogs in our shelter. I had to go to the ER for stitches. (The dog was redirecting aggression as I was returning her to her kennel, my hand got in the way; stupid, but true story.) I declined to give any details about the bite other than it was not her fault, she was up-to-date on her vaccinations and I could provide the papers necessary to prove it. For some reason, the ER docs were fine with that. Was I just lucky? I never heard from AC, so did the docs even report the bite? I have no idea.

I know that's very different from a serious injury to the face, but again, why was her face in the dog's face? People have to stop blaming other people for their own mistakes.

Now, if the vet clinic had to cover the expenses beyond the norm for extensive injuries to their vet tech, it's in their interest to reveal the owner's name and address, isn't it. I agree with Dawn-Renee that the vet is playing CYA as well.

Anonymous said...

I advise puppy buyers and adopters that if they go to the hospital or ER and report ANY dog injury, their pet could be at risk.

In Ca, scratches from claws can in some cases fall under "dog bite" and there is no common sense about circumstances in most cases.

A puppy I placed with a great family was ball crazy. Their 9 year old son was getting ready to throw the ball for her, leaned over just as she jumped up. Their respective faces met. Hard.

The son had a one inch laceration where one of her teeth split his chin. No bite per se but tooth skin contact. They went to the ER as the cut was pretty deep.

Next day, AC was at the door, demanding to see the dog. The family ended up canceling a family trip so that their dog could do her quarantine at home rather than the shelter and were informed she was now on the county roster as having a bite history and could be declared vicious. Their son was in tears, frightened that his dog was going to be killed and that it was his fault.