Once upon a time, a man brought his dog into the veterinary clinic for a routine procedure. While under anesthesia, the dog died, probably due to negligence. The veterinarian called the owner, left a cruel message, threatened him to pay the bill anyway, then refused to return the body. She was callous, indifferent, and verbally abusive, and didn’t even care what happened to the much beloved pet.
Naturally, the man was tremendously upset, so he called the local media outlets and told them the story, which they shared on the evening news. The office spent several weeks dealing with the fallout, lost clients, and the veterinarian spent the next year and a half in court. Serves her right, right?
It would, maybe, if any of that happened that way. It didn’t.
How do I know? I was that veterinarian.
People Can Say Anything They Want
This is something I’ve never shared, because the whole incident was so incredibly painful- it took me two years to even be able to talk about it without choking up. It was before social media took off, and I can only imagine what it would have been like to have not only our city, but the whole world chiming in. Good people have been pushed beyond their mental limit and died because of these sorts of events, and it’s beyond heartbreaking. So I’m sharing today in the hopes that perhaps it will persuade even one person to wait before you berate (just made that up! Ta da!)
In that first paragraph, the only sentence that I don’t dispute is the very first one. The rest: I beg to differ, strongly. I learned some really painful lessons during that experience many years ago:
- People can say anything they want. Anything. The more upsetting the ‘facts’ become, the more attention the media pays to you. They don’t worry about checking the veracity of those facts, because 1. No one will hold the news liable anyway and 2. The truth often makes it hard to stir up enough flames.
- People don’t hesitate to perjure themselves in court. We’re talking completely made up stories. Again, what’s the worst that could happen? Maybe they will lose the case, maybe not. It’s worth a shot.
- When you are the subject of this type of pitchfork mentality in mass media, it’s almost a 100% guarantee that trying to defend yourself will only make the situation worse. The vast majority of the time, the best thing to do is curl up in a ball and wait for it to pass. This also means many people will take this silence for admission of guilt, which it is most certainly not. There is no good way to get through it other than time (+/- therapy, vodka, etc.)
In my case, I had to fight these allegations for almost two years before getting in front of a judge who asked for actual evidence and, finding none, dismissed them. I won the case but lost something far more valuable: my love for the work. I cannot overemphasize the effect this had on my relationship with my clients, who were of course mostly amazing people and didn’t deserve my suspicion. People often speak of the trust they need to feel with their veterinarians (and rightly so), but no one speaks of the trust medical professionals need to feel with their clients:
- That you will be honest in the part you play in a pet’s health;
- That you believe we are there because we want to help, above anything else;
- That you will speak to us like adults before going to social media every time something bad happens.
That experience was not the only reason I left general practice, but it sure played a big part. Practicing under a culture of fear is no way to love what you do. I can’t tell you how many of my colleagues have one bad appointment, someone who wanted something for free or decided to be verbally abusive to staff then asked to leave, who then spend the next several days gnawed with anxiety waiting for the inevitable terrible review- which as small businesses, many clinics rely on for new clients.
Those are annoying, but it comes with the territory. Most of us know by now to ignore the random 1 star outlier review. The problem comes when someone with a flair for storytelling and a platform decides to take it further. When something gains traction on social media, it’s not uncommon for a 4.9 star business to go to 2.2 in 24 hours, solely based on reviews from people who have never even been there. It can take many hours of work and dealing with the review companies to undo the damage.
There’s two reasons I bring this up:
- There is currently a firestorm I’ve seen online with a veterinarian under fire for a situation involving a stray cat. The particulars don’t really matter, because it was a different place last week and will be a different place next week. Trust me, when I read some of these stories my eyebrows raise as well. They can sound terrible. But are the facts real? Again, you have no idea. None. I speak to many of my colleagues who go through this and, unsurprisingly, their stories often paint a very different view of what happened.
- A blogger was recently ordered to pay one million dollars to her wedding photographer, who lost her business over this blogger’s false accusations about a $125 item on her wedding album. Sure, the photographer “won”, but again- she lost her business. It is still a huge loss. While everyone has a right to share an opinion of their experience in online reviews, the people who resort to deliberate lies and efforts to ruin a business may finally be asked to deal with the repurcussion.
WAIT before you BERATE
As a consumer of online media and a lover of animals (which I assume you are if you are reading this blog, and thank you for that by the way), there are three things I would ask of you as a decent human and citizen of the world:
- When you hear a story about a veterinarian (or photographer, or teacher, or whatever) doing some terrible, awful, no-good thing, just wait a beat before running to leave terrible reviews, calling the business to abuse the hapless staff, threatening their mother in the grocery store. I get the rush of anger you might feel, and perhaps it is justified. Perhaps it is not. Express your opinion to your Facebook friends, try and see if you can figure out the other side, but jumping into a mob that has real and long-term effects on the subject’s life, ability to earn a living, and mental health without being damn sure it’s deserved is a terrible thing to do.
- There are many genuine instances of a less than stellar experience, which I completely understand. If you feel your veterinarian has done something wrong, give them a chance to make it right before jumping to the reviews. At worst, you gave them the benefit of the doubt before leaving an honest review. At best, you’ve brought a deficiency to their attention (a long wait indicating they are understaffed, an employee who needs communication training) and perhaps strengthened your bond with them. If the person answering the phones is rude to you, we want to know! Thank you for that and for the chance to fix it. Truly.
- If you love your vet (or eyebrow waxer, or local gyros joint) take five seconds to leave a good review. They matter, especially on those especially bad days.
We all deal with enough garbage that happens right in front of our faces, there’s no need to race off to battles on other fronts that we have no role in. Life’s short. Be kind. Do good. The rest is noise.