A Vet's Mistake

by Dawn Collver
Maly Kotcik Himalayans


Published September 2002

A breeder shares her story
of the mistake made by her veterinarian,
and how she was able to seek justice

I have had animals around me all of my life. In fact, I think a house is not home a home without a cat. My passion for cats eventually let me to start showing and breeding Himalayans. I love the challenge and the purrs are the icing on my cake.

But as I sit here pondering the events of the past few months, I start to wonder why I am still breeding cats and trying to accept all the responsibility that goes along with it. Sometimes it is very hard indeed.

The Beginning

It had been the best year for me ever as a breeder. I brought in some new outcrosses and began producing the quality of kittens that I have always dreamed about. From one of these breedings came a beautiful seal lynx point male that I was very proud of. I named him Schweet Cheeks.

This kitten was the best lynx point I had ever produced. And while all my kittens are special to me, this little boy had something extra and was spoiled very much... but since the last thing I needed was another male, he was offered for sale to a breeder/show home.

He sold quickly and as was my routine, I took him to my veterinarian to have him checked out prior to going to his new home. Little was I to know the problems that were to follow

My Kitten Goes to the Veterinarian

I have been going to the same vet for over five years. In fact, just the week before the "Incident" I had two pet kittens altered by this same vet.

Whenever I sell any kitten, I always have my vet examine the kitten for general health and I have blood drawn for a FELV/AIDS test to assure the new owner that the kitten they receive is in top shape and disease free.

So, as usual, I dropped the kitten off at the veterinarian to have his blood work done and made plans to pick him up later that day.

A couple of hours later I received a message on my answering machine that the kitten was ready but there was a problem. With my heart in my throat, I immediately called the vet back to find out what had happened.

The Mistake!

Imagine my reaction when I heard my kitten had been neutered by mistake!

I drove to the vet's office immediately. Oddly, I was only allowed to speak to the receptionist. It seemed the vet did not have the nerve to come speak to me himself!

It was explained to me that the vet tech had put my cat's name on a list for surgery by mistake - and that the kitten was neutered before anyone discovered the error.

I had already sold the kitten as a breeder/show kitten. The interested party was planning on driving up from New York City the next weekend. How was I going to tell her what had happened? What was I to do?

The Vet's Reaction

After I returned home, I called and asked to speak to the vet. The vet's position was that it was the tech's mistake and that he did not feel responsible. Perhaps the one statement that most clearly demonstrated the vet's lack of sensitivity to what he had done was when he said, "At least I didn't kill him. He is still alive.''

How could a professional medical person not accept responsibility for whatever might happen at their place of business? I was honestly amazed at his attitude.

The vet's attitude angered me, so I decided to cool off and think about the situation. I waited a couple of days before I called the vet back and told him I felt he was responsible for the mistake.

I did question him on how things were done in his office regarding scheduling procedures, etc. He refused to give me any information but, in the end offered to purchase the kitten at the original sale price if he could talk to the person who was going to purchase the kitten and verify the price. I found it interesting (to say the least) that I was suppose to trust this vet with my animal's life yet he didn't trust me about the sale and needed to speak with the purchaser of the kitten.

Despite the implied insult, I did indeed get a signed statement from the kitten's buyer regarding the price.

An Impasse

A couple of days later I returned to the vet's office with the kitten so that the "sale" could take place. Upon arrival, the vet wanted me to sign an agreement that I would not sue him in court. I said of course... if he would sign my pet contract, something I ask all buyers of my pet kittens to do.

The vet refused to sign the contract because he would not agree that the kitten would not be declawed.

We were at an impasse. I certainly did not feel comfortable selling my kitten without my standard contract being signed to ensure the kitten's health and safety. I knew I would have to take the vet to small claims court to get my money.

Going To Court

Two months after my kitten was mistakenly neutered I took my vet to small claims court. Prior to filing in small claims court I had a telephone conversation with my lawyer but I represented myself in court. The vet did not attend court but sent his lawyer.

As the case began, I realized I had made a mistake by trying to sue the vet for the full amount for the loss of the sale. The judge stated that I had not lost the sale if the vet was willing to pay me the original purchase price. I was told that as long as the vet was willing to pay the original price for the cat, then I had no cause for complaint. The judge would not require the vet to sign my pet contract.

I was devastated to say the least. I wanted to be able to know where this kitten was going to end up! In court the vet's lawyer stated that he was planning on selling this kitten to the person who was going to purchase him. This seemed very odd to me since she was a breeder and what would she want with this kitten? I never did understand what this comment was all about.

My second mistake was not having a signed contract from the purchaser to present in court to verify the sale. I contracted the woman several times but all I received were promises. This put me in a tough position in court but I was able to get around it because the vet finally did admit his mistake.

I obtained 2 signed documents from breeders regarding the value of the kitten as my proof of his cost. I want to thank Noel Newton and Millie Harris for those statements that allowed me to file in small claims court.

The Judge's Ruling

The judge did not understand the importance to me of having my pet contract signed... and so in his ruling, he made no stipulations that the vet had to sign anything. The judge said I could take the vet's money and give him the kitten. Or I could take the loss. I was given one week to think about it, then we would return to court for a final decision.

I was torn. Did I simply take the loss? Or did I sell my vet the kitten with no contract?

A friend said to me "Do we really know what happens to any of the kittens we sell just because a contract is signed?". That helped me make my decision. After many conversations with concerned breeders and a few sleepless nights I decided I could not allow this vet to get away without paying for his mistake. I reluctantly decided to follow the judge's order and sell the kitten to the vet.

Then the kitty gods smiled at my predicament and offered a solution. Miraculously, during the week I was considering what to do, I received a call from someone looking for a premier to show. I called the vet and proposed a new agreement. I suggested that when we returned to court I would offer to settle for the cash difference between the pet price I would charge the person looking for a premier and the original sale price of the kitten unaltered. Then I would place the kitten in the premiership home.

It would be a great solution for everyone involved. The vet would be able to settle by paying less and would not have the bother of having to resell the kitten. I would have control of where my kitten was placed and would have a signed contract from the new owner. The kitten would be the spoiled companion of a twelve year old Junior Showmanship candidate :-).

Luckily the vet agreed.

The Financial Picture

  • The kitten was originally sold as a breeder/show prospect for $1500.
  • The kitten was eventually sold as a premier for $400.
  • The vet paid me $1100 in damages, the difference between the kitten's price as a whole cat and the price as a neutered cat.
  • It cost $15 to file in small claims court.
  • The vet brought a counter-suit against me in court to recover his lawyer fees and the cost of the neutering (!). The judge laughed at the counter-suit and denied it completely.
  • The vet no longer speaks to me.

What Did I Learn?

Everything we go through in life can be a learning experience. While I don't know if there was anything I could have done that would have prevented the original error at the vet's office, I have thought about things I will do in the future to reduce the chances of a similar mistake happening:

  • Always speak to your vet personally about what is to be done with your cat.
  • Try to develop a one-on-one relationship with your vet.
  • Make an impression on the vet so that he knows your cats as individuals even if he only sees them once before they go on to their new homes.

If things do go wrong at the vet's, here are some suggestions on how to handle it:

  • If your vet makes a mistake with one of your cats, try to settle out of court if at all possible.
  • If you decide to go to small claims court, understand the difference between how the legal system might see your situation and how you see it. Emotion doesn't count. Judges will not understand how we feel about our kittens and their welfare, or understand that procedures such as signing pet contracts may be standard in the cat fancy.
  • It is best to keep your emotions under control and try to look at things in as logical a manner as possible.
  • If you do decide to go to court be sure to have paperwork to back up your position. That would include contracts, examples of the worth of similar kittens, etc.
  • Always take control of placement of your kitten. If there is any problem, it will save you many a sleepless night.

This was a heart wrenching experience for me that turned out satisfactorily in the end... but what a lot to go through to get to that end!

Best Comment heard from a fellow breeder about the situation:

"If a kitten were mistakenly altered by my vet,
he would be the first vet to do a testicle transplant... and he would know where to look for the donor organs... They would be HIS!"

Postscript:

As fall begins, there are also other beginnings... new lives enter the world. The mother of the kitten in this article has just produced four lovely babies. And I have learned another lesson in life... I am blessed!

The Vet

  • When this mistake first occurred, I filed a complaint against the vet with the local veterinary licensing board.
  • I have since heard from the licensing board and the vet will be investigated
    by his peers.
  • I suspect it will probably end up with a slap on his hands due to the
    fact it has been his first documented mistake.
  • I have learned that the vet had made other mistakes but the owners involved did not pursue any formal complaint against him.


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