The Passing of
Our Sweet Angel

March 10, 2021.


I've waited more than a week to clear my head and seriously weigh whether to post this. Complaining or reviewing on Yelp or Google always seems ineffective but this needed to be said (even if it's for my own peace of mind).

For a little more than three years, Heartland Animal Hospital in Lake Placid, Florida, was the health care provider for our rescued cat.  The assistants were always wonderful. The main doctor seems to be quite qualified but she is totally lacking in personality. The new doctor partner has some personality but we felt that she was less qualified. (Two other patients we referred feel the same way.) That new doctor partner gave our cat a few weeks or maybe a couple months to live—that was more than nine months ago. Regardless of monitoring, our cat remained chipper and content and quite normally active even though she had a myriad of health problems including total deafness and failing kidneys all of which originated long before she adopted us.

We knew she was nearing the end because of the kidney problems which usually plague cats. One day she started hiding and she was very lethargic. When that went on for three or four days, we took her to the vet but again nothing was diagnosed specific to the hiding although she had developed pancreatitis and they gave us medication for that. Oddly, they also told us our cat was blind because she wouldn't blink when they poked a finger at each eye. An hour before, she had clearly seen me enter a room, stood and came across that room to greet me. When we got home, she moved—sometimes even running—around the house and the furniture with clear sightedness just as always. In several places, furniture and objects had been rearranged for redecorating so we knew she could see and she wasn't navigating by rote.

The lethargy subsided a bit but she wasn't back up to snuff. Then, within a few days, she started ducking every time we went to pet her. This was odd because she was always abnormally affectionate. We phoned the vet and asked if cats get headaches. We were told that they had never heard of such a thing.

Another day or so later, while we administered her daily meds and subcutaneous fluid (for her kidneys), she reacted quite normally, looking at us, meowing. Absolutely normal. I put her down on the floor and she suddenly got hesitant, at first slipping in her gait, and then she started bumping into everything. She had literally gone blind in a split second with her eyes wildly dilated. It was heartbreaking to watch her move her head around trying desperately to see and meowing wildly. As a result, she understandably plunged into complete panic. I left her at home in the care of my wife and rushed to the vet but was told to monitor her until the next day. Again, they cited that she had health problems. After returning home, the cat became much, much worse. Her pupils were now going from fully dilated to normal and back and forth. We were fearing some sort of stroke and thought that this was the end. I phoned the vet but the telephone gatekeeper wouldn't allow an immediate appointment for what would obviously be euthanasia. Every staff member there knew our cat and would have known that whatever was happening was dire to illicit such reaction in me or my wife. We had never been demanding. Instead, rather huffily the telephone gatekeeper would only agree to move the next afternoon's scheduled appointment up half an hour no matter how I explained that the poor cat was going out of her mind with fear. Still, I was told they had no time to see her. How inhumane is that? At this point, I was in as much panic as our cat. I asked if I should take her to the emergency vet hospital quite a distance away. "If that's what you think you have to do," was the dismissive reply.

I had to drive two hours to that nearest emergency veterinary  hospital with the poor cat in total distress. That emergency hospital told me our cat's blood pressure was so extremely and abnormally high, it was why she had been ducking her head—because her head was throbbing. They said that hypertension was common in severe kidney failure but it should have been checked all along. Wasn't our vet checking our cat's blood pressure? Until that moment no one had ever taken the cat's blood pressure (rarely was anything done in the same room we were in)—or, if they had taken blood pressure, it was never mentioned to us. Our cat had gone suddenly blind because the extraordinarily high blood pressure burst the blood vessels in her eyes. With no medical records on file, they spent the next few hours running tests to determine how to possibly help her. Ultimately, with her other ailments, such a large dosage of blood pressure medication would be fatal to other failing organs. Oh, and our vet's assessment that our cat was possibly twelve years old was off by at least three and as many as five years. She was most probably fifteen and quite possibly older.

The end for any much-loved pet has to be accepted but it was absolutely inexcusable for our original vet to allow or expect any animal to suffer for the convenience of appointment schedules. That was just plain heartless and it is unforgivable. As one assistant explained more than a year ago, "Cats get treated as disposable [in the veterinary world]."

The next day, when I called our original vet to cancel the scheduled appointment, I informed them of our cat's death. When I gave them the explanation that the sudden blindness and panic was due to fatally high blood pressure, the phone line suddenly went silent. It was that sort of silence when you know the other party realizes they screwed up. I was too exhausted to raise my voice let alone argue. My anger wasn't part of my grief; it was due to the callousness my pet had been shown. Rehashing it here has been heartbreaking but I will qualify my stance with this: My wife was a medical assistant for her entire career. If a patient called or showed up with dire symptoms, that patient was admitted immediately regardless of the routine appointment schedule. On my way to becoming a successful writer,  I spent ten years as a lifeguard. I knew full-well about
emergency treatment and when I had to administer it. In order words, we were both hands-on in healthcare. Neither of us would have allowed any human to have been treated thusly let alone an elderly animal.

Our last memories of our beloved pet were of her thrashing around in utter terror for hours not understanding what was going on. If our vet had had her way, such suffering would have even been extended for an entire day. We lived ten minutes from our vet and had our cat been seen immediately, her misery could have been cut short by all those hours. She deserved that courtesy and that caring and that dignity. It is what should have been paramount to everyone involved regardless of whose pet it was and anyone who might make an excuse to the contrary shouldn't be in any branch of medicine.

As a professional writer, I know how to gather evidence and how to state it clearly. All of this is absolutely true exactly as it happened. There has been nothing left out or spun for my benefit. We knew there couldn't be miracles but we had put faith in our pet being shown compassion and humaneness. She didn't receive that until we drove her two hours away. At least there they allowed us to cradle her and calm her so she knew we were with her when she went to sleep.

There are no excuses or apologies which our vet can ever extend. That would just be insulting. Nothing exonerates such a lack of caring. Prospective patients might bear this experience in mind before considering Heartland Animal Hospital and specifically Amanda Nichole Rigny Alden, D.V.M.


Copyright © 2021 John Dandola, Ltd. All rights reserved.