Back when I was a neophyte veterinarian, I had a very strange phone call late one afternoon at the clinic.
A woman called who was not a client and who asked to please speak to the vet, that she had just run over her daughter’s dog. We had never seen or talked to this woman before. She had never been to our clinic. The receptionist got the idea after asking her a few quick questions, that she had no regular veterinarian.
I got on the phone, half expecting a hysterical pet owner. Instead I was met with a relatively calm woman who seemed a tad bit nervous at times, and who talked in such a fast and broken manner that it was difficult for me at times to decipher what she was trying to say.
She told me she had accidentally backed over her daughter’s dog in her driveway, killing the poor dog instantly. My thoughts immediately took me back to a time when I was a child when a neighbor across the street accidentally backed over the family dog in their driveway and killed it. It was terrible. The entire neighborhood was attached to and loved that little dog and we all grieved. I remember the pain, anguish, and guilt her owner felt.
I told the lady on the phone that I was so, so sorry. I meant every word and felt really bad for her.
It’s what she said next, that both perplexed me and angered me.
She wanted to know if she could bring the deceased dog in to the veterinary clinic, us “do whatever we wanted with the body,” and she would then tell her daughter this huge fabricated story she had concocted– that she had taken the dog in to our clinic for a bath and that WE had let the dog get loose and escape from our clinic and that the dog had run out into the street and been hit by a car and killed. While in our care. She wanted me to collaborate her story with the daughter.
I sat in stunned silence for just a few moments in total disbelief that she was actually asking what she was asking, and then I said, “NO, MA’AM, I CAN NOT AND WILL NOT DO THAT!” She acted shocked and didn’t see the problem. “But it was just an accident,”she said. “An accident… YES EXACTLY,” I boomed. She still didn’t get it.
I asked her how old her daughter was. She told me her daughter was ten, almost eleven. Plenty old enough to be able to deal with the truth, as ugly as it was. And I told her so. I don’t know if I was out of line professionally (and I really don’t care if I was), but I told her in my opinion she needed to do herself and her daughter a favor and tell the truth of what happened to the dog. I told her it was an unfortunate accident and accidents happen in life. Her daughter needed to learn that lesson sooner or later. I told her I believed that honesty is always the best policy. And so no, I would not lie for her. It would not be doing her daughter any favors.
I asked her if she had thought about how this would affect her daughter’s life long view of veterinarians and veterinary clinics (had we gone along with her lie)? There would probably always be a distrustfulness, hurt, and probably some anger issues on her part towards the veterinary profession. She hadn’t thought of that and really didn’t care. And if by chance, her daughter did later learn the truth, how would it affect her relationship with her mother? She hadn’t thought of that either.
No, I would not let my profession take the fall for this. The lady on the phone was not pleased with me. I had thwarted her lies. I often wondered after hanging up what exactly she told her daughter. I have a sneaking suspicion it wasn’t the truth. I hope that it was.