Jack's Law would help save the lives of more than 500,000 dogs and cats in New Jersey by restricting the responsibilities of recent veterinary school graduates and require interns to be supervised — in person — by experienced veterinarians, especially in critical care situations. It would also require veterinary hospitals be transparent and honest to consumers about exactly who treats the animals left in their care.
Currently there are no laws in New Jersey prohibiting a recent veterinary school graduate from being the sole medical provider in a hospital setting — even in a critical care unit. In New Jersey, an intern works under a veterinarian’s license. However, the licensed veterinarian is not required to be present when the intern is working, or to personally supervise him or her. When we take our dogs and cats to veterinary hospitals, we should be able to trust that the people caring for our loved ones are experienced professionals.
Eighteen months ago, I lost my incredibly loved and irreplaceable collie, Jack. Jack died in Red Bank Veterinary Hospital (RBVH) as the result of being left overnight in the Critical Care Unit under the unsupervised care of an inexperienced and incompetent intern.
It was only after Jack died that I learned that the sole medical provider caring for him in the CCU had just graduated from veterinary school two months earlier and had only been working as a "veterinarian" for less than two weeks. In fact, she had not even passed the state exam or received a license from the state.
Jack died because the intern who was supposed to be taking care of him wasn't paying attention or because of her inexperience, she just didn't know how to help him. For nearly 13 years I kept Jack healthy, happy and strong despite the fact that he was born with a megaesophagus which required continual observation and care. All of that was destroyed with one lie, one intern and one irreversible mistake.
In short, Jack had a feeding tube surgically inserted into his abdomen at RBVH. This was to be a temporary measure to help him recover from a serious bout of esophagitis. The surgery was deemed a success. Both the surgeon and admitting veterinarian were so pleased with his progress that they told my husband and me that we could take him home the next morning. In fact, when we saw Jack twice that afternoon, he was alert and coherent. He immediately recognized us and kissed my face. His temperature and breathing were normal. Jack looked so well, we went home—confident that he was being cared for properly and professionally. But by 9 p.m., while under the unsupervised care of the intern, Jack aspirated. By morning, Jack's condition had dramatically deteriorated. He had a raging fever and needed oxygen to breathe. Instead of bringing him home, we buried Jack alongside his brother in Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, the very next day.
For most of us who share our lives with dogs and/or cats, our four legged friends are much more than pets—they are members of our family. We love them, care for them and do our very best to protect them. That's the only reason we went to RBVH. It was supposed to provide exemplary surgical and post-operative care. What makes Jack's death even more devastating is the fact that it was completely avoidable. When I told the admitting veterinarian how concerned I was about leaving him in the care of an inexperienced vet tech, she promised to put him in the CCU where he would be kept under the constant, careful supervision of a veterinarian. Had I known that the "veterinarian" had just graduated two months earlier and had only been practicing as a vet for two weeks, I never would have left him there.
Unbelievably, there's nothing to prevent what happened to Jack from happening again. While there are no statistics to quote, I called all the emergency hospitals listed on the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association's website and most of them hire interns. Who knows how many unsupervised interns have made similar critical mistakes.
Jack was an incredible soul. He made everyone around him feel happy and loved. He was intelligent, funny and beautiful. He was so much more than that. I am heartbroken and will miss him forever. It is unforgivable that Jack died because I wasn't told the truth. It would be unconscionable to allow others to die simply because nothing was done to change that awful truth.
I hope that with your help, we can save other families and their beloved dogs and cats from similar heartache. Please do not let Jack's death be in vain.
Thank you very, very much.