Letters: Bringing back painful memories
When I read the August issue of Veterinary Medicine on animal welfare, it caused me to remember incidents of animal abuse that I did not report and that haunt me to this day.
One case involved a paraplegic man who hoarded a large herd of horses. He wanted advice on their care. They were being fed very poor hay and were malnourished. I gave him abundant printed information on proper feeding, medical care, and management. He said he wanted to put me on a retainer and that I should come routinely once a month. I agreed to come again in a month, but I declined the retainer fee until the herd was in good condition. A month later, the horses were in either the same or worse condition. I sent him a formal letter advising him that because my advice was being ignored, I no longer wanted to provide services, even though he paid his bills. I should have reported him. A few months later, his neighbors turned him in, and he was prosecuted. I was glad I had disassociated myself from him, but I didn't do the right thing and my conscience bothers me to this day.
Similarly, I was called to a wealthy estate to see a 2-year-old purebred filly dying of starvation. She belonged to a 13-year-old girl. The filly was down and unable to rise—terminal starvation. I hooked her up to IV fluids and pumped eggs, buttermilk, and syrup into her stomach. The girl's mother appeared and asked what was wrong. I told her the filly was near death from starvation. She said, "Well, we bought the horse for our daughter, and it was her responsibility. If the horse dies, we'll not get another for her."I did the wrong thing—I said I'd come back the next day, but I should have called the police. I got a call from the mother the next morning: "Don't bother to come. We decided to put the filly to sleep."
I will never get over the guilt I have about that one. In these difficult situations, we make a choice: Do we feel guilty now for reporting a client, or do we feel guilty decades later for not having done so?
Robert M. Miller, DVM