Maryland Pet Owners: Did You Know . . .
- In Maryland, an individual with absolutely no experience whatsoever can be given the title of "veterinary technician." Yes, that's right -- in the State of Maryland, your veterinarian can grab a homeless person off the street, hire him at minimum wage, and give him the title of "Veterinary Technician." Surprised? So was I! There is NO state requirement for experience level or training for an individual to be given this title by a vet. Misleading? You bet! So be warned: You cannot safely assume that the "vet techs" working on your pet have any level of experience at all.
- There is no certified veterinary technician training program within a half-hour drive of DC. There is only one certified veterinary technician program in Maryland -- at The Essex Campus of the Community College of Baltimore County -- not a reasonable driving distance for many Maryland residents and would-be licensed technicians. In the Maryland suburbs of DC there is no veterinary techinician training program available through any of the local schools. (The only other training program in proximity to metropolitan Washington is at the Loudon campus of Northern Virginia Community College --- again, too far for most MD suburban residents). The State Veterinary Board is aware of this problem. A former Board member is to be applauded for his efforts to establishe other programs throughout the state -- however, we are left to wonder why the current veterinary board and the MVMA itself are not more proactive in supporting this mission. Until this pervasive problem is addressed, be warned: If you are obtaining veterinary care in the Maryland suburbs of DC, it is likely that your vet has few, if any, licensed technicians on staff. In fact, In September of 2005, Dr. Katz of Kindness Animal Hospital admitted that he did not have one single, solitary certified licensed veterinary technician working for him! (Even though he repeatedly referred to his son as a "vet tech" in conversation and in hospital records.) Unfortunately, under the laws of the State of Maryland, that is perfectly alright.
- Want to Know if Your Vet Has a Discliplinary Record? Maryland Doesn't Make it Easy to Find Out. Unlike its Virginia counterpart, the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners does not make veterinary disciplinary records publicly accessible via their website. This means that if you want to find out if a vet has been found in violation of the Veterinary Practice Act, you are going to have to file a FOIA request, in writing, with the state. While pet owners in neighboring Virginia have this information at their fingertips on a publicly-accessible website (http://www.dhp.state.va.us/enforcement/cdecision/boardresults.asp?board=3), the Maryland State Vet Board seems to want to make it hard for Maryland pet owners to obtain their vet's disciplinary records. Why?
- Maryland regulations state that certain acts -- including administration of medication -- are only to be performed by technicians working under the immediate and active supervision of a licensed veterinarian. (Click on the State Regulations link at the top of this page read this, and other, State Regulations). Do you think this is being done at your vet's office, or do you suspect that your veterinarian is - like Dr. Katz -- permitting unlicensed, uncertified individuals to carry out potentially life-endangering treatments unsupervised? Before you answer that question, consider this: What would be a Maryland veterinarian's incentive to conscientiously supervise all work conducted by unlicensed staff, when he knows that:
- Most "owners" whose pets are injured or killed by veterinary errors never bother to file a lawsuit or complaint. The worst that usually happens is that they lose a patient -- and a paying customer.
Even when clients do file complaints -- and when the Board finds the vet violated State regulations -- the State's "disciplinary" action will be laughably meager. How meager? In the case of Toonces, the State's "civil penalty" was a paltry $250. Yes, the State suspended his license -- but they immediately stayed the suspension, meaning he lost not one day of work. Moreover, unlike Virginia, which posts findings and disciplinary actions on a publicly-accessible website, Maryland does not take any proactive measures to make their violations known to the public.
Considering the above, ask yourself: How can the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners expect Maryland's veterinarians to take them -- or their regulations -- seriously?
If Maryland's veterinarians don't take the regulations seriously, how can you be assured that they take their professional responsibility for care of your animal seriously? Please do not make the same mistake I made -- one of blind trust. Many pet owners wrongly believe that -- like us -- vets are just a bunch of sensitive, caring animal lovers. While the love of animals may drive many people to the veterinary profession, this is by no means true of all veterinarians. Need a wakeup call? Remember, one of the best selling professional magazines for veterinarians is called "Veterinary Economics," not "Veterinary Excellence."
Just Because It's Called a "Hospital," Doesn't Mean Someone's There. Many "hospitals" leave patients unattended for 12 hours or more. By law, in the State of Maryland, your veterinarian is supposed to inform you if 24-hour supervision will not be provided for your pet. But as in my case, they don't always tell you how long your pet will be left unattended. Don't assume that because it's called a "hospital" staff will be on duty at all times -- ASK.
- The cap on recoverable damages for the loss or injury of a pet was raised in the Fall of 2005 from $5,000 to $7,500. This can only be obtained through a lawsuit -- complaints to the State Vet Board result in professional action only.
After reading all of the above you may be asking yourself --
Why should I bother?
[reporting a veterinarian whose actions I believe have injured my pet . . . ]
Well, remember -- they are counting on the fact that you won't. And that is precisely why nothing ever changes.
And nothing will change -- either in terms of the level of care provided by veterinarians, or the level of oversight provided by the State Board -- until and unless we -- the consumers of veterinary medicine -- demand it.
Consumer action is the only way.
We are here to make that process easier for you, because we know what a lonely, and often seemingly fruitless, road it can be. We believe that we owe it to our pets.
See the tips above under "Prevention" for suggestions on how to keep this from happening to your pet. See "What to Do" for tips on what to do if your pet falls victim to an unscrupulous or incompetent veterinarian.
Contact the Toonces Project if you would like assistance.