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College of Veterinarians of Ontario: Protect the public; Hold veterinarians accountable.

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The College of Veterinarians of Ontario says that it protects the public’s right to safe, ethical veterinary care, but it does not, in fact, do this. On average, a mere five or six veterinarians a year (about one to four percent of the 150-200 vets who are complained about annually) are disciplined, and wrongdoing is only made public when a veterinarian is disciplined. The details of at least 96% of complaints, even serious ones, remain secret. Most complaints—an apparent quota of 55 a year for each of the last three years—are met with “advice.” Veterinarians who are advised, cautioned, or remediated fly entirely under the public’s radar. The public has no way of knowing about or protecting itself from them even when their actions have harmed or caused the deaths of animals, as no information about those veterinarians is published.

Our cat died at an Ontario veterinary clinic while undergoing diagnostics. Having palpated an abdominal mass, noted pale gums, and heard lung wheezing, the veterinarian anesthetized him for forty minutes without establishing that it was even safe to do so.  No blood tests had been run on him in close to five years. Symptoms of low appetite, lethargy, and cold intolerance combined with the exam findings should have alerted any competent vet to the fact that he was not a candidate for anesthesia. A breathing tube and IV catheter were not installed from the outset of the anesthesia (as is standard practice) to be ready for any potential adverse anesthetic event, and there was no anesthesia monitoring log to indicate that our cat’s vitals had even been monitored. We had not been advised of any risks or alternatives to these procedures, as veterinary practice standards dictate. After about an hour at the clinic, we were told that our cat was waking up and would soon be ready to go home. Minutes later, the veterinarian led us to the treatment room without any warning about what we were going to see. Our cat lay unconscious on a metal table. His pupils were widely dilated and he was breathing erratically. We looked on in distress as he died. Though we are not medical professionals, we had even been instructed by the veterinarian to ventilate our dying pet—something we did not know how to do.

We filed a complaint with the College of Veterinarians. It determined that the veterinarian's performance did not meet the standard in several areas. She had not obtained fully informed written consent for the procedures; there was no evidence of an anesthetic monitoring protocol or an anesthetic monitoring log, and no breathing tube or IV catheter had been installed, as is common practice; the veterinarian had also failed to maintain her clinic’s blood machine. (Some of the blood work, only looked at after our cat’s death, was apparently unreliable because of “machine error” --something the veterinarian chose not to tell us.) For these infractions, the veterinarian received nothing more than advice. The CVO does not monitor “advised” veterinarians to ensure that they actually comply with recommendations. Furthermore, there is no record that the public can consult to determine if a veterinarian has required advice, a caution, or remediation.

The public and vulnerable animals alike are not served by the CVO. Our case and the particulars of many others we learned about during the lengthy complaints process make it abundantly clear that this body does not hold its members appropriately accountable. We demand that the CVO do three things:
(1) Make public the results and key details of all complaints so that the public can protect itself from dangerous veterinarians who have performed below standard;
(2) Put a system in place to ensure that all advice is complied with and that all identified issues are satisfactorily addressed;
(3) Increase public representation on the CVO complaints committee. Currently, there is only one public member; the other eight members are veterinarians with a vested interest in protecting their own.

Members of the public have a right to information so that they can protect their beloved companion animals from substandard veterinary practice. The CVO needs to do more than “develop and maintain standards and policies”; it needs to actually enforce them. We, the public, demand transparency and accountability.

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