Diana Roth has always been an animal lover. Opening her home and her heart to abandoned cats and dogs for most of her 69 years, the Tallahassee, Florida, retiree is also an advocate for her pets’ health. So Roth knew she had to find a new veterinarian when her current provider said nothing could be done for the hip problems of her 11-year-old beagle-basset mix, Roscoe, or for her 11-year-old dachshund Shadow’s failing sight. “I decided my dogs weren’t getting the care they needed,” Roth says. “I found a new vet and the difference in the energy [at the office] was night and day.”
In Dr. Melanie Donofro, who practices at highly rated Los Robles Animal Hospital, Roth found a doctor who’s philosophy regarding holistic care mirrored her own. “Dr. Donofro really listens and never pooh-poohs anything I say, no matter how crazy it sounds,” she says.
Donofro was able to help Roscoe through acupuncture and chiropractic treatments, and recommended an eye specialist for Shadow. “I know Dr. Donofro saved Shadow’s sight by finding her the right doctor,” Roth says.
Finding the veterinarian that’s best suited for your furry family is key to their well-being. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends potential pet owners do the legwork to find a veterinarian they’re comfortable with before bringing home a Fido or Felix.
“It’s the first thing we tell people,” AVMA spokeswoman Sharon Curtis Granskog says. “Pick a vet before you pick a pet.” It’s important to put the animal’s health first, she adds, but finding a veterinarian who meshes with your personality and expectations is just as vital.
Angie’s List member Jacki Speaks of Blacklick, Ohio, has visited Dr. Donna Violet at highly rated Animal Hospital of New Albany for years and says she didn’t realize how good she had it until she accompanied her mother on a visit to her vet.
How to find the right fit
Industry associations and highly rated veterinarians give the following tips for finding the provider who’s a perfect fit for your pet:
• If you have a purebred cat or dog, area breed clubs can be a good source of information.
• If you’re moving to a new city, ask your current veterinarian for recommendations. Oftentimes they’ll know of colleagues whose policies and services are similar to theirs.
• Tour the facility. Use your eyes and nose to detect cleanliness. What services can they provide on-site? If it doesn’t meet your expectations, turn around and leave.
• Check Angie’s List. Then contact your state veterinary licensing board to verify their status and review any complaints.
• Make sure you meet with any potential veterinarian for an introductory consultation. It’s important that you and your pet are comfortable with the doctor and staff.
“My mom was putting her cat to sleep and the vet appeared very cold and unsympathetic,” Speaks says. “When in a similar situation myself, Dr. Violet called me afterward and even sent flowers. They’re just the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.”
Finding a nice veterinarian should be getting easier, at least in theory, as the profession grows in popularity. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the field of veterinary medicine is expected to increase 35 percent by 2016. Veterinarians specializing in one species are becoming more prevalent along with an increase in advanced care options.
But those options come at a high cost. While some are willing to pay whatever it takes to keep their pet healthy, others are left with sticker shock.
Twenty-one percent of Angie’s List members responding to a recent online poll said they thought their veterinarian’s services and/or products were overpriced.
Member Jennifer Priddy took her three cats to highly rated Broad Ripple Animal Clinic in Indianapolis for an annual checkup and says the veterinarian and staff were very prompt, efficient and kind, but she thought the final bill was a bit much.
“I was suspicious that some of the testing was unnecessary and the costs were overkill,” Priddy says. “But I’m not a veterinarian, so I’m not going ?to make that final judgment call.”
Broad Ripple Animal Clinic’s certified veterinary practice manager Brenda Tassava says they make a concerted effort to provide the highest level of service possible, which includes giving any pet receiving anesthesia IV therapy and blood work.
“When we give an estimate for any kind of work, we provide a line-item statement,” Tassava says. “There are a lot of things involved with teeth cleaning.”
Dr. Allen Codding, owner of Anderson Mill Animal Clinic in Austin, Texas, says there are a few things to consider before concluding your vet is just trying to make a quick buck.
“Veterinarians want the very best for every animal,” Codding says. “When a vet recommends tests, medications or procedures, they’re honestly trying to offer the best care possible. If I don’t offer all the options, then the client isn’t getting what they paid for.”
Balancing economics against the lives of the patients is the hardest part of the job, says Dr. Dennis Wackerbarth, owner of highly rated Cats Exclusive Veterinary Center in Shoreline, Washington. “We all go into this business so we can take care of animals,” he says. “It may sound harsh, but if you can’t afford your pet, you shouldn’t have one. It’s not fair.”
Veterinarians take an oath to protect animal health, but even the most dedicated vet has experienced situations in which the outcome was unexpected. The AVMA and American Animal Hospital Association recommend you speak with your veterinarian to resolve any issues. If a situation can’t be resolved, you can file a grievance with your state’s veterinary board.
Have you run into a problem with your vet?
The Angie’s List Complaint Resolution Team can be of service. Visit angieslist.com for more details.
Barb Daniel of Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, was devastated after her 9-year-old German shepherd, Elle, died from apparent complications after surgery. She took Elle to Dr. Esteban Baeza at Street Road Animal Hospital to be spayed and for a teeth cleaning. Daniel says Baeza assured her all was well after surgery, only to have Elle die at home two hours later.
“I felt something was wrong when I picked her up,” says Daniel, who’d had Elle put under a few times before for routine procedures. “I expressed my concerns, but was told she was just having some trouble with the anesthesia. I think [Baeza’s] lack of attention was negligent.”
Baeza says he told Daniel his concerns about operating on a 9-year-old dog. “There’s always a risk with surgery,” Baeza says. “It’s understandable she’s so upset. It’s very painful to lose a pet. Unfortunately, this would’ve happened with any veterinarian.”
Daniel, however, says she never insisted on the procedure and was told that spaying a dog — regardless of age — was the safest option.
Losing a pet is a hard thing to face, especially if the death is untimely, which makes the relationship with your veterinarian all the more important. “You need to go to someone you can trust and communicate openly with,” AVMA president Dr. Jim Cook says. “Nothing else matters if you don’t have that first.”