How do you handle unsatisfactory service?

by Karen on July 30, 2010

Due to remarkably bad timing, Howie was due for his vaccinations and heartworm test this month, just two weeks after we moved. So we had to start hunting around for a new vet last week. As if we didn’t have enough going on right now.

After reading some online reviews, it didn’t seem that there was a clear leader in service in our new town. Most vets require an exam for a new “patient,” so I started making phone calls to find the vet who offered the best prices. If I wasn’t so pressed for time, I would have made more of an effort to ask pet owners in town who they recommend, but things have just been so crazy. So I made an appointment with the office with the best prices.

It’s not always a good idea to make decisions based solely on price. This is one of those times.

Howie has never shown aggression to anyone. In the three years we’ve had him, we have never had an issue with him at a vet’s office or a groomer. He’s not particularly comfortable with strangers poking around at him in those settings, but he’s never growled or snapped, and the animal technicians who’ve handled him in the past have never had a problem getting him to do what they need him to do. They can distinguish nerves from aggression, and they’ll typically work their magic to get the job done even though he’s skittish.

These people, though? It’s like they’d never handled a nervous dog in their lives. They tittered around the office waving treats at him, and when he wouldn’t sit completely still, they refused to examine him or vaccinate him.

I grew up with dogs. When I was a teenager, I was usually the one who took our family pets to the vet. I have never seen a dog wag his tail while a vet sticks a thermometer up his butt. Most dogs are just nervous during vet visits. But most professional animal technicians know how to handle the situation.

I’ve dealt with a dog who showed vet aggression. When I was a teenager, my family had a Rottweiler/German Shepherd mix. He was a sweet dog, but one summer he became gravely ill. He couldn’t keep food down, he was in a lot of pain, and he lost about a third of his body weight in a few months. There were many tests and vet visits, and he made it clear that he did not want to be handled by strangers by growling and even snapping. I completely understood when they made the decision to muzzle him. I don’t expect the vets or vet technicians to put themselves in harm’s way, and dogs are animals, after all. Animals that can bite.

But seriously. This was not the situation with Howie. He was nervous, but he wasn’t aggressive. I even got down on the floor and held his head with his face thisclose to mine. He wasn’t going to bite or even snap. He was just squirming around. If they had wanted to muzzle him, I would have been fine with it. They didn’t want to do that, though. They just didn’t want to deal with him. I have never seen animal professionals who seemed to have so little experience wrangling nervous animals. Even the groomers at PetsMart will usually just grab Howie, tell him to chill out, and do their jobs.

I held him while a vet tech took his temperature, and that’s about as far as the exam went. The vet came in and took at look at his mouth from about five feet away while I held him, and she said his teeth looked fine. But then she said they wouldn’t be able to vaccinate him or trim his nails because he was just “too nervous.”

He was due for vaccines, though. So what did they do? They packaged them up in a bag and sent them home with us. I mean, what? Is that even legal? They’re nasal vaccines, so it’s not like we have to stick him, but I still have no idea what I’m doing. Because, you know, I’m NOT A VET. So we’ll see how that goes.

We were charged half price for his vaccinations, and I didn’t expect to be billed for an exam since they didn’t really perform one. But of course, when they handed me the bill, there was an exam charge. I argued with them a little, but they basically said it wasn’t their fault that the dog wouldn’t cooperate and I had to pay for their time. What could I do? I paid the bill.

Then the icing on the cake: they refused to give me a prescription for his heartworm prevention medication. We always purchase his medication online, because the prices are so much better than at the vet’s office. They told me they “don’t do business” with online pet drugstores. Um, okay.

So my options were to either pay their higher prices for medication or make Howie an appointment with another vet who would allow us to order his medication online, because I’d need the vet to sign off on it to get the medication. I begrudgingly bought the heartworm medication in the office, but I’ll be ordering his flea prevention online because it doesn’t require a prescription.

Now I ask, what would you do if you were me? The whole experience was terrible. We were charged for an exam they didn’t perform, we have no idea if his vaccines will be administered properly because we don’t know what we’re doing, and we were forced to buy medication from them (I’m not even sure if that’s legal), and I feel like I have no recourse. What would you do?

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In which it metaphorically hits the fan
August 11, 2010 at 2:49 pm

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