Vet clinic responds after investigation of puppy surrendered over $10,000 veterinary bill
PORTLAND, Maine (WGME) - The emergency veterinary clinic accused of taking and rehoming a woman’s puppy due to her inability to pay for the animal’s medical bill has released a statement in response.
The Maine Veterinary Medical Center (MVMC) said there were inaccuracies in the original story. However, WGME said no incorrect facts were identified by the clinic in the story.
Rachel Mullen said her puppy, Jaxx, needed emergency surgery to save his life, but the bill came to $10,000, an amount that she couldn’t afford.
A couple of weeks before the emergency procedure, Mullen said her 4-month-old German shepherd got curious and ended up with a wooden skewer in his belly.
Mullen said her vet recommended the Maine Veterinary Medical Center, a 24-hour emergency clinic, and Jaxx was admitted.
“The last thing I did was gave him a hug and a kiss and told him to go get better,” she said.
The following day, Mullen said the veterinary clinic informed her that the surgery cost more than $10,000.
According to the clinic’s website, half payment is due upfront, with the rest due upon completion of its services.
“You can’t come up with tens of thousands of dollars unless you have very big pockets in six hours,” Mullen said.
After looking into financing options all day, Mullen said she only qualified for a small fraction of the cost.
“I was given the option to pay or surrender him,” Mullen said.
In its statement, the MVMC said the medical plan was discussed with Mullen regarding the cost of Jaxx’s surgery and continued care, as well as the about $10,000 cost for this treatment. It said several credit options were discussed, including CareCredit, Wells Fargo credit, and Scratch Pay, and that it accepts all major credit card and pet insurance options.
“The owner told the doctor, ‘At this point, I’m prepared to say good-bye because you guys don’t have payment plans, and I have no way of paying,’” the statement reads.
Mullen said the clinic told her that Jaxx needed urgent surgery, so the workers didn’t give her 30 minutes to come in person. So, she surrendered ownership electronically.
“I signed the paper so they would help him,” she said. “It was still close to $3,000 after that.”
The MVMC said the option was discussed with Mullen to surrender the puppy to an owner who would be able to take care of him.
“The doctor then raised the possibility of rather than euthanizing Jaxx, to instead surrender him to another owner who would be able to pay for the surgery and care for Jaxx,” the statement says. “The owner, understandably distraught, told the doctor, ‘If you guys can give him a life and it’s not with me, then that’s fine.’”
Mullen said she then started a GoFundMe account to get some financial help. With the help of friends, family, and the dog’s breeder, she said they got the money by that evening.
“I called and said, ‘I have the money, and I want to try and get my dog back.’ He’s gone; he’s not here,” Mullen said.
The Maine resident said she currently doesn’t know where Jaxx is or how he’s doing.
“My kids cry and ask about him every day,” Mullen said.
A spokesperson from the clinic’s corporate owner, Rarebreed Veterinary Partners, said when a person surrenders a pet, it’s a legally binding contract.
The spokesperson also said the clinic works with shelters and rescues.
In its statement, the MVMC said saving the pet is its main priority, and surrendering the animal is seen as a last resort.
“It is unfortunate and heartbreaking for this pet owner that she did not have the means to cover this emergency,” the statement says. “It is, however, a credit to our dedicated staff that another option to save the puppy was explored.”
The statement continues to say, “Jaxx had the surgery and is recovering well. He is with his new owner, and we hope will live a long and happy life.”
Patsy Murphy, with the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, calls this case unusual.
Murphy said the nonprofit gets calls from veterinarians in these situations and often has conversations about what the animal needs and the owner’s capacity to care for the pet.
“It’s a frequent conversation because of the financial impact families are experiencing now with the high cost of vet care,” she said.
Murphy said the nonprofit’s priority is to keep pets and owners together, but it was not contacted about this situation.
Meanwhile, Mullen said she isn’t giving up and has filed a police report and is bringing her concerns to the state’s board of veterinary medicine.
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