Nfld. & Labrador

My dog might have lived, says pet owner turned away for emergency vet care

Nicole Marsden's dog died without access to emergency veterinary care. The Newfoundland and Labrador College of Veterinarians is investigating.

N.L. College of Veterinarians is investigating after a dog died in Corner Brook last weekend

Xander was a four-year-old miniature longhaired dachshund. He became ill on the last weekend in September and died. (Submitted by Nicole Marsden)

Nicole Marsden will never know if her dog could have been saved, but the Corner Brook woman wants to make sure no one else goes through what her family endured last weekend.

Marsden's four-year-old miniature longhaired dachshund, named Xander, died last Saturday.

During the last hours of his life, Marsden made calls and searched the internet to try to get veterinary care for him.

But Marsden said she was told the local veterinary clinic that was providing emergency care last weekend would not see her dog because he was not one of their clients.

Marsden has made a complaint about that to the Newfoundland and Labrador College of Veterinarians.

"It was really scary and traumatic seeing him suffering and not knowing where to turn for help," said Marsden.

"I think that, maybe if he was given a chance, he could have been saved."

Nicole Marsden says her dog, Xander, was a member of the family. The NL College of Veterinarians is investigating a complaint from Marsden about vet care not being available for Xander. (Submitted by Nicole Marsden)

A very sick dog

The first sign that Marsden's dog wasn't well came Friday evening, when Xander started to experience diarrhea and vomiting.

Marsden said she made sure he had lots of water in his dish to help him stay hydrated, and she kept a close eye on him.

But Xander's condition worsened overnight, to the point that he was bleeding from the rectum and was becoming weak and lethargic.

Marsden knew her dog needed immediate veterinary care, and made calls to try to find out which local clinic might treat an after-hours emergency.

The number she was given to call was for a veterinary triage service based in the United States, which Marsden figured would take down her information, and get her in immediate contact with a local vet.

However, that didn't happen, as Marsden was told that the on-call clinic, Animal Health Centre, wouldn't see Xander, because he was the patient of another vet clinic in the area.

"I was told that we were being refused emergency service for our dog, Xander, because he had seen a different vet previously for his last checkup," recalled Marsden.

Marsden said she was prepared to pay up front for emergency veterinary care, which can be costly, and she couldn't believe that she was being turned away.

Grief-stricken and feeling helpless, Nicole Marsden posted a number of photos, including this one, to social media in her dog's final hours of life. (Submitted by Nicole Marsden)

She said she was able to reach her usual vet by phone, but he was out of town, several hours away, so he was unable to see Xander.

Marsden said Xander's health deteriorated quickly, and she knew time had run out for her to get care for him.

Xander died late Saturday afternoon and, while Marsden still doesn't know what was wrong with him, she says veterinary care might have made a difference.

"There's a lot of things that could have been tried for him. He could have been given IV fluids … or lots of different medications to try to help his body recover," said Marsden.

"So there's a lot of things that could have been done in those four or five hours that he suffered." 

Calling for change

Marsden said she's speaking publicly because she'd like to see changes to ensure animals are able to get emergency care when needed, regardless of who their veterinarian is.

"I definitely feel like there's something that has to change between the vet clinics and the laws surrounding the fact that they can refuse an animal," said Marsden.

"Just because they had seen another vet, that shouldn't put their life at risk."

Marsden emailed the Newfoundland and Labrador College of Veterinarians earlier this week about her concerns, and she is submitting a handwritten complaint to the college, which oversees matters related to licensing and discipline of veterinarians in the province, by mail.

Nicole Marsden's son, Malikai, is seen here with family pet Xander. (Submitted by Nicole Marsden)

Investigation underway

CBC called the Animal Health Centre in Corner Brook and asked to speak with the veterinarian who Marsden said was on call last weekend, but a staff person said the veterinarian was "unavailable," and suggested CBC contact the College of Veterinarians.

Nicole O'Brien, registrar of the Newfoundland and Labrador College of Veterinarians, declined CBC's request for an interview.

But, in a phone conversation, she confirmed the college is investigating what happened with Marsden's dog last weekend and is still gathering information. O'Brien said she won't comment on the matter while the investigation is ongoing.

CBC also contacted the Newfoundland and Labrador Veterinary Medical Association. Dr. Maggie Brown-Bury, president of the association, replied by email to say she also won't be commenting due to the ongoing investigation.

SPCA weighs in

Meanwhile, the NL West SPCA, based in Corner Brook, has indicated the matter will be discussed among SPCAs throughout the province, and that a letter will be going to the veterinary association to ask for some remedy.

Frances Drover, president of the NL West SPCA, said Xander's death raises concerns about access to veterinary care.

Drover said the reliance on an out-of-country triage service is unacceptable, and she'd like to see that changed so pet owners can at least call someone in this province to inquire about emergency help for an animal.

We cannot have an animal in distress.- Frances Drover

Drover is also calling for clarity and compassion when it comes to the policy for on-call veterinary services. She says there's an onus on veterinarians to ensure that animals get care in a way that will alleviate and prevent suffering, and she said that obviously did not happen in Xander's case.

Drover said the province's Animal and Protection Act makes it clear that an animal cannot be left in a state of distress.

"We cannot have animals in distress, and this was a prime case of an animal in distress, in which case, if the person that owned that animal didn't see to getting that veterinary care, they would have been charged. That's a felony now. You would be charged and fined," said Drover.

"So what happened? There's nobody to charge, because she was turned away."

Drover said veterinary care must be available to all animals, regardless of whose client they are, and she hopes some changes will come out of this tragedy.

"They're not going to right the wrong, because we're not going to bring back the little dog," said Drover, "but we might be able to help the next person down the road that has the same problem."

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Bernice Hillier is a host of CBC Newfoundland Morning, which airs weekday mornings across western and central Newfoundland, as well as southern Labrador.