Thursday, June 18, 2009

Is it just about the money these days?

Note: This entry is rather long. But it details something that happened yesterday that was so upsetting, I need to blog about it today. Since it involves our pets, I thought it might be helpful to other readers with pets and their corresponding relationships with veterinarians.

Between our 6 dogs - 7 before losing our little Shortcake in February - we have willingly spent hundreds of dollars at our veterinarian's office. In Jaime L. Dunn, D.V.M., owner of Lofton Creek Animal Clinic in Yulee, Florida, we felt we had finally found an animal health care practitioner in Nassau County who cared as much about animals as about money. We were clients of this particular clinic with its previous owner before he sold it and have entrusted our wee ones to Dr. Dunn’s care for the past two years or so since she bought the practice.

My poodle, Pepper, had to have surgery yesterday, June 17, 2009. The bill for a dental cleaning and excision of a fatty tumor was high - nearly $500 - and we asked if we could pay half yesterday and the other half next Friday when my husband got his pay check. We had the full amount in our checking account yesterday, but wanted to hold some of it back for any emergencies that might pop up before next week. I told them I would bring it in to them or mail a check to them the following Friday and suggested to Dawn, the office clerk, that she make note of that in our file, as I wanted everything on the up and up.

It's important to note here that we have NEVER carried a balance with this vet, never asked to delay a payment. Whether our bill has been $10 or $400, we've always, for the past 2 plus years, paid in full as services were rendered. Always, always, always.

Yesterday's bill for our poodle's dental cleaning and fatty tumor removal was higher than we anticipated since they performed a couple of procedures without telling us beforehand: a biopsy was taken of the tumor, and heartworm testing was done that wasn't due until next month. (Now, we're cool about the biopsy, but more about that in a minute.)

So they conducted the payment transaction for half the bill, we signed the slip and we were waiting for them to bring out Pepper. Barbara, one of the vet techs was giving us tips about canine dental care; all was well. (As a point of interest here, there's a note on the bottom of the invoice that any balance carried forward after 30 days will be charged a 2% fee, or $3.00, whichever is greater. This has never pertained to us because, as I said, we always pay our bills in full. It's just interesting to note that evidently, some of their clients do carry balances.)

Suddenly... Heidi, the other vet tech, shoved a typewritten note under my nose which said, in essence, that I would promise to pay the remaining balance by the day and time (time?) I stated, “or legal action might be taken” against me! Legal action - were they serious?

I'm standing there, speechless. There are other people in line behind me, watching, listening as we, reliable clients that we thought we were, are suddenly being treated like dead beats. I'm trying to absorb this when Heidi whispers to me, "And she said she'd just hold the biopsy until the balance is paid." I said, "You mean the results?" She replied, "No, she said we won't send the biopsy in until you pay the balance on your account."

Now, we had been told the tumor was probably a fatty tumor, nothing to worry about, etc., but they had said the biopsy was necessary and now they were willing to delay sending in the tissue that had been suspicious enough for the vet to take a biopsy to be examined for cancer to begin with. If my dog did indeed have a cancerous tumor removed and we waited another week or two, what kind of consequences would that have for his health? Feeling strong-armed and downright blackmailed, I took my pen, drew a big X across the form and said, "No. This is insulting." I took out the debit card again and told the vet tech, "If that's how it's going to be, then take it all. And send in the biopsy today!" (I kept the form, just to show people who might not believe this story.)

She ran the second transaction and we left. I was stunned. I felt confused, hurt, angry, frustrated and shamed. And in all the weirdness with what had just happened, they neglected to give us our poodle's follow up instructions, his antibiotics and pain medication. And I was so stunned, I forgot to ask!

We called the office when we got home, but everyone had left for the day. My husband left a message about the medications. He too, was beside himself and he told them we hadn't appreciate being treated so poorly and would have to find another vet. At least Pepper had already had his 12-hour antibiotic and pain meds for the day, so I knew if we got them today, he would be OK.

Ladora, or Ledora (I’m not sure about the spelling of her name), the office manager, returned my husband’s call this morning and said she would take “some of the blame” over what happened yesterday and was sorry we had gotten “caught in it.” She claims to work for the representative of Dr. Dunn's partner, which is interesting since the business cards say Dr. Dunn is the owner of the clinic, not the co-owner.

She said things like "Oh, so sorry, it's just policy and nothing personal." I disagree. It's quite personal. When you have pets, they are like your children. You need a professional you can trust to care for them. In return, you pay the professional for their services. Ladora said they just didn't "do payment plans" which we weren't asking for anyway. She said they'd have the medication at the front desk for our pick up today and would be happy to copy our records for us to take with us. In other words, "Good riddance!"

You know, the note and threat of legal action against a good client is one thing. But for Lofton Creek Animal Clinic to threaten to withhold a medical diagnostic test – in this case, a biopsy - until they could scoop up the remaining $245 is really quite low.

While I am still hurt today, and even more incredulous at Ladora's ho hum attitude about insulting, then losing our business for her boss, I am mostly just sad. Sad that we have lost a good vet. Somewhere in the back room, away from this mess, is a young lady who worked hard to get through veterinary school, who cried as she helped us let Shortcake go to Rainbow Bridge. She even sent us flowers after our little dachshund's passing. She seemed to appreciate our business, respect us and always tried to do the right thing by our animals. In turn, we gave her our respect and did the right thing by her, including referring customers to her and always always paying our bills in full as services were rendered - the right things to do.

We feel Ladora - and maybe Dr. Dunn too, we're not sure about the degree of her involvement here - did the wrong things by us. While everyone needs to be paid for their work, an occasional, very short-term arrangement that detours from "policy" can be made and should be accommodated on a case by case basis, using common sense and some degree of understanding. I've done it my entire personal and business life - it's called helping others.

Ladora cites policy, but where’s the human factor here? She has ripped 6 sources of income away from her boss. She has lost a lot of money for her boss. She has insulted two very good, caring human beings. I’m surprised Dr. Dunn is OK with any of that. But again, we’re not even sure what the vet knows. We’re following up with a note to her, just in case she is unaware of what transpired.

Editor's Note: I would be interested in hearing from pet guardians and veterinarians alike on this topic. How could the staff at Lofton Creek Animal Clinic have handled this better? How could we as clients have handled this better? Should clients never be allowed alternative payment arrangements, not even once in a while, not even the good, loyal, honest customers? Should vets be more involved and watchful of what their business managers or office managers and clerical staff are up to with the clients in the front office? Please post a reply here on the blog or write to me at

By the way...if there is a competent veterinarian in Northeast Florida with a clean office and professional staff members who would like a half dozen spayed/neutered canine clients with responsible pet guardians who pay their bills, please drop me a note at


Susan said...

I am so sorry to read about this situation at the vet's.

I encountered a similar situation with a former vet I took my two fur babies to and I have since changed vets as a result.

Ironically the first appt at the new vet was because Honda had developed a "bump" on her rear hip. It did not seem to bother her but it needed to be checked out.

To make a long story short, it was cancer but once removed the margins were all clean.

To get to that point though, I encountered a similar situation with office staff. On our initial appt. they "forgot" us in the exam room and we waited and waited and finally they were cleaning up to close for the night and I said "hey what about us"...........the tech had put our file on the wrong door! I made it a point to explain to this new vet (who was highly recommended) how distressed I was over this situation as this was my first visit and not a very good impression. She was very compassionate and apologetic and discounted the visit.

I weighed the options the vet gave me and opted for surgery, which I am glad I did. I asked for an estimate on the surgery and I was advised a biopsy would be required and that alone was $100. The overall bill was $305. I have learned to refuse a lot of the other "stuff" they try to sell you and it is an easy sell because we are emotionally attached to our pets.

I feel if you haven't already done so, you should make it a point to speak directly with the vet and let him/her know how you were treated. In my case it made a difference and the vet was aware they had some "issues" with the front office.

If after you have spoken or written the vet you remain unhappy then I would take my business elsewhere. It may be that the vet knows nothing of how you were treated.

I switched vets because the previous vet had become all about the money and the $305 surgery would have been closer to $1k with the same results.

Good luck and know your fur babies appreciate and love all you do.

Web Mistress said...

Thanks for comment, Susan. We too, have learned to say "No" to a lot of the extras. I have to say be very careful when they start talking "dentals." Some dogs need them on a regular basis; others do not and they can get real pricy.

As for this vet: We did write to Dr. Dunn and she wrote back pretty promptly. She actually said, and I quote here, "You have been wonderful clients, and honestly, had it been just about anyone else, I would not even released the patient without full payment."

In other words, they would have held our 11 pound poodle hostage for the $245 balance - again, after always, always, always paying our balance in full for the past 2 years and asking for only a 6 day extension for the second half of the balance. Amazing!

She said the legal threat was "just for legal purposes", not meant to demean us at all, as she "never thought for one second that would be the case with you at all."

She ended the letter by noting (incorrectly, in my opinion, that she is "not motivated by money") and said, " are one of maybe 5 clients I have that I would even consider allowing to pay only a portion of a bill at the time of pickup."

As I said before, all of us work hard and deserve to be paid for that work, no matter what we do for a living. But arrangements and exceptions can be made, particularly with a good client. Unless the only motivation IS money.

She said she had 5 of those good clients. Unfortunately, she now only has 4.