UPDATE: Emergency Room Closed When Family’s Pet Needed It Most

By: Jason Aubry Email
By: Jason Aubry Email
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Daisy's owners provide proof of their phone calls. Questions arise to the validity of Animal Emergency Room employee's claims.

Losing a pet is a gut wrenching process for any family. Young or old, pets engrain themselves into our family units to the point where they are looked at by many as just another member of the family.

But why is it that so many of us aren’t ready when our non-human family members become suddenly ill or have an emergency? We know what to do if our sons or daughters, husbands or wives, get sick. We drive them to the Emergency Room at the hospital or a 24-hour clinic nearby.

Some pet owners think doing the same with their pets is enough, but the reality is, if you are unprepared it may be too late.

Lacy Harkin’s children called her to the backyard Wednesday afternoon. The kids were worried about their 10-month-old puppy Daisy. Her face was swollen and she wasn’t very energetic. After looking around, Lacy noticed some dead bees nearby and thought perhaps the dog had just been stung and she was staying still while the pain of the stings went away. Lacy decided to just keep an eye on her dog. (According to veterinarians, who were unable to look at the dog at the time but were given descriptions of the symptoms she was showing throughout the day, it is possible Daisy could have been bitten by a snake as opposed to being stung by bees.)

By 4:30 p.m. Daisy’s head had swollen to near impossible dimensions. Lacy asked her husband to bring the dog in, and when he did Daisy walked around acting somewhat normal, still not as energetic though. Lacy went to class that night.

When Lacy returned home, she found Daisy lying in the middle of the living room. Her husband told her Daisy had walked there herself, so Lacy thought nothing of it. After tucking her children into bed, she walked back through the living room. What she saw turned her quiet evening into a nightmare she won’t soon forget.

Daisy was bleeding from her mouth and rectum. "I panicked. It was one of those, I don't know what to do [moments]," says Harkin. In a panic, Lacy nearly fell down the stairs as she went to get her husband.

The two of them frantically started looking for help on the internet. That’s where they found the number for the Animal Emergency Room on 4th street. They called the vet immediately, it was 9:02 pm.

The Harkin’s say, the female on the other end of the line told them to bring the dog in right away, so they put the dog in the car and took off for the clinic. They arrived just before 9:25 p.m. to find the doors locked, and no cars in the parking lot.

From 9:25 p.m. until 9:36 p.m. Lacy’s husband repeatedly called the clinic’s number. All he got was the answering machine telling them the clinic was closed and sent to a voicemail box that was (and as of Tuesday afternoon, still) full. "I was upset because they told us we could come and they weren't there," says Harkin.

The couple called several other veterinarians, getting through to one who told them their doctor had stopped seeing patients for the night, and that they would have to take the dog to Colorado Springs to get it help.

With no gas left in the tank of their car, the Harkins decided to see if Daisy could make it to the morning. Daisy died sometime during the ride home.

KKTV contacted Dr. Merrilee Laas, the veterinarian for the Animal Emergency Room. She says, she was never told the Harkins were coming by anyone on her staff. She also says, she had been planning on closing up early that night as well.

According to Dr. Laas, she left the clinic around 9:20 p.m. to get gas in her car, but returned around 9:45 p.m. and stayed until after 10:00 p.m. before leaving for the night. Dr. Laas has been a veterinarian for more than 30 years, the last 10 have been spent here in Pueblo operating the Animal Emergency Room seven days a week, in the evenings.

She used to offer services from 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 a.m. but says due to her age, she can’t handle that anymore. Her current phone book ads, and the sign on the clinic door says, she provides services from 6:00 p.m. until midnight, and that there’s always a Veterinarian on the premises.

Dr. Laas says, there are occasions when she closes up early, and many different reasons for doing so; and there is no state or federal regulatory board or commission that requires her to adhere to the hours she advertises, unlike hospitals and clinics that deal with human patients.

Still, some believe that if you advertise such a unique service that could be the difference in the life and death of a part of your family, you should honor those hours.

Dr. Scott Reed is the veterinarian who operates the Pueblo Area Emergency Hospital located on Fortino Blvd. Its hours are from Friday at 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. on Monday. During that time he is open 24-hours a day, and he says, someone is always there ready to help.

For Dr. Reed it’s a matter of principle and pride in what he does. "Many of our clients arrive at our location without even calling, so we have to be there and we have to be prepared for anything that comes," says Dr. Reed.

Dr. Reed hopes to be able to expand his availability to overnights during the week by next summer, but that will depend heavily on the amount of people who need, and are using his services.

As for Lucy Harkin, she learned a terrible lesson Wednesday evening. "I feel bad because I could have acted sooner. I could have not [gone] to school. [I] could have called my husband sooner. There was a lot of things I could have done different," says Harkin.

Here is what veterinarians say we all can do to be ready in case our pet has an emergency:

Know where you are going:

Whether it is day or night, know where you are going to take your pet. Have the emergency information taped to the inside of a cabinet door or posted on the refrigerator, and have a backup in case there is a problem with your primary choice.

Know the clinic:

Most emergency clinics will be happy to show you around when there is not an emergency happening. Take the opportunity to check them out. Find out if they are professional, if you like them, and if you feel you can trust them with your pet’s life.

Be financially ready:

Emergency procedures are expensive. The Parvo virus runs rampant in Pueblo because too many owners don’t get their dogs vaccinated. A Parvo vaccine costs $15, an emergency room visit because your dog has Parvo can cost you $500.

Being financially ready doesn’t have to be restrictive, although it can be. Some options include purchasing pet insurance. Yes, it’s for real. You can insure your pet just like you insure your house, car, boat, life, and your own health. It may be expensive, so shop around.

Another option is called Care Credit. You can sign-up for an account in advance. In a sense it’s like paying for the emergency in installments with zero interest (as long as you pay on time).

The bottom line, from veterinarians is, if you are going to say your pet is like a family member than treat it like one. Have a plan and be ready to pay for emergency services, because you never know when you will need them.

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