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IF YOU ARE a first-time dog or cat owner,
choosing a veterinarian is one of the most
important decisions you will make. The
worst time to look for a veterinarian is when
you really need one in an emergency, so plan
ahead. Here is what to do when looking for a
qualified and competent veterinarian.
Check for accreditation. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)
is the only organization that accredits veterinary practices in the United States and Canada.
Accreditation is not mandatory for veterinary
practices—only 12 to 15 percent of veterinary
clinics in North America are accredited.
Veterinary hospitals that are AAHA
accredited have voluntarily met the AAHA’s
approximately 900 standards of care and
undergo regular, comprehensive evaluations
by veterinary professionals. Find an accredited veterinary hospital at aaha.org.
Look for board certification. The
American Board of Veterinary Practitioners
(ABVP) offers certification recognized by the
American Veterinary Medical Association in
11 recognized specialties.
It takes a minimum of three years to
become ABVP certified, and certification
means that a veterinarian has completed additional studies and examination to become a
board-certified specialist in clinical practice
for a specific species. To find a veterinarian
certified by the ABVP, visit abvp.com and
click on “Find an ABVP Specialist.”
Get referrals. In the event that you live
in an area that does not have an accredited
Vetting your pet’s vet
practice or board-certified vet, you still have
options. It’s usually not too difficult to locate
trusted friends, family members or co-workers who have pets and a long-standing relationship with a vet that they can recommend.
If the vet isn’t handy or has a full schedule,
many times that vet, in turn, can suggest a
colleague in the area.
However, if your pet needs major surgery, you really want a board-certified surgeon at an accredited facility.
Schedule a tour. Tour a veterinary
facility before you take your pet there for a
first appointment. Veterinarians usually work
with a team of professionals, including technicians and other support staff, so evaluate
the entire team.
Make sure the facility is clean and organized and that staff are caring and competent. Consider location and fees when
making a decision. Focus on quality of care
as a first priority.
Here are some good general questions
; Is the practice a single doctor or a
; If it’s a multi-doctor facility, how many
veterinarians are in the practice? What are
their specialties? (There are specialists for
animals just as there are for humans.)
; Are diagnostics done in-house?
; Are emergency services available
24/7? Which services are available?
; How is boarding handled?
; Is someone present all night with pets
if they require boarding? Are pets cared for
in an open space, caged or both?
Going to a reputable specialty hospital
that offers general medical services could be
a good option and may save you money,
because the services you need will be under
Seek a second opinion. Just as you
would with a person, you can get a second or
third opinion. Ask questions if you do not
understand a plan for your pet’s care, and do
any research you feel is necessary. C
WE DON’T WANT to think about
veterinarians potentially harming our
beloved companion animals, but,
unfortunately, injuries or even death
can occur. If you suspect your animal
was injured by veterinary malpractice,
here are some tips from the Animal
Legal Defense Fund ( aldf.org).
; If you are unsure, seek a second
opinion from an unrelated veterinarian.
Contact the vet who treated your animal and get a copy of your records;
take them to the new vet.
; If your animal has died under a
vet’s care, immediately or as soon as
possible take the body to a college of
veterinary medicine for a necropsy to
determine the cause of death. If you
have received a second opinion that
supports your concern about malpractice, seek expert legal advice.
; Send a complaint to your state
veterinary licensing board, and request
an investigation. State licensing boards
can suspend or remove a vet’s license.
Call the board to make sure your complaint was received and acted upon.
; Send a complaint requesting
investigation to the veterinary medical
association in the county where the
; Hire a lawyer or go to small
claims court. An animal is viewed
legally as an item of personal property
and most courts limit recovery to the
cost of replacing the animal with
another animal, so there is a low
potential for a recovery that will equal
the sense of loss that you feel. How-
ever, a few courts are beginning to
permit owners to recover the “intrinsic
or sentimental value” of the animal,
as long as the sentiment is not “exces-
sive” or “maudlin.”
In small claims court, recovery will
be limited to out-of-pocket expenses. In
any lawsuit, you will still be required to
secure expert testimony to establish
that malpractice occurred. C
If you think a veterinarian
has made a mistake
David Horowitz is a leading consumer advocate. David’s daughter
Amanda Horowitz is the CEO
of Fight Back! and co-founder of
FightBack.com. Email David and
Amanda at email@example.com.
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