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Woman urges pet owners to thoroughly screen veterinarians after dog dies of misdiagnosis

Woman urges pet owners to thoroughly screen veterinarians after dog dies of misdiagnosis
Posted at 8:07 PM, Mar 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-02 22:53:26-04

DENVER — A traumatizing incident six months ago still seems like yesterday for Buena Vista resident Monika Courtney — the anger, nightmares and sleepless nights haven't let up yet.

Stripe, her two-year-old Chihuahua-mix, was different than any other dog she's ever owned.

"He was the sunshine of this farm. He made everybody laugh," Courtney said. "He added so much joy to my life because he was with me every minute of the day."

Stripe made friends with all of the animals at Courtney's animal sanctuary, but November would be the last time they'd see their friend.

"He jumped off a small wood pile in our backyard... he was dragging his feet. He couldn't walk." Courtney said.

The closest animal hospital was two hours away, so Courtney took Stripe to a local veterinarian to see if he could be treated or whether a trip to the ER was necessary.

"The vet told us that he would snap out of it... and I should take him back home, put him in a crate for crate confinement," Courtney recalled.

Two days later, Stripe's condition worsened and he wouldn't stop whining. Courtney took Stripe to an animal hospital, where she learned that Stripe significantly injured his spinal cord and was suffering immensely. The ER vet believed that Stripe was experiencing an acute spinal cord compression and was suffering from the progression of myelomalacia.

Courtney ended up returning home by herself.

"He died in absolute terror," she said. "This is a scene that flashes through my head every day, and it's extremely traumatic that I could not say goodbye."

The State Board of Veterinarian Medicine determined that the vet that initially examined Stripe "failed to perform a thorough neurologic assessment and provide the owner with appropriate treatment options and recommendations including referring patient owner to an emergency clinic," according to legal documents. The board ordered the vet to watch a few educational videos and pay a fine of less than $3,000.

Kristina Bergsten, an animal attorney in Denver, says she's not surprised that the vet can still practice.

"Oftentimes, they will get multiple fines, education classes, slaps on the wrist, and that will be will be it," Bergsten said, pointing out that animals are viewed only as property in Colorado's legal system.

That's why Bergsten says screening a veterinarian is very important. She urges pet owners to actually read through Google and Yelp reviews and ask the veterinarian plenty of questions before service. The most critical step includes searching the Department of Regulatory Agencies' website to see a veterinarian's disciplinary history and the status of their license.

The DORA website can be difficult to navigate through, so here's a cheat sheet. First, click on this link, then choose "license type" and enter the name of the person or business in question and click search. You will be directed to a page that shows the business or individual's name, their license number and status. Click "details" to read any court documents and disciplinary history.

For Courtney, finding the next vet may be a long process.

"I'm terrified to go to another vet actually," she said. "It took my trust, it diminished my faith."

Denver7 reached out to the vet but has not heard back.