Dog days: When Max went under the knife

Tammy White's dalmation clearly wasn't well: His nose was hot, he had a slight fever, and except when he got up to urinate– which he did frequently– he just lay around. That was on Sunday, March 28.

Three days later, White took the dog, Max, to their veterinarian, Dianne Buhrman, at Westwood Animal Hospital in Staunton. They were running a few minutes late to the vet's office, and when they arrived, Buhrman had left. Since White was on her lunch hour, she left Max and returned to pick him up at 4:30.

Buhrman reported that she had done a urinalysis, blood work, and X-ray, which showed crystals in Max's urine. Buhrman had given him Rimadyl for pain and started him on a 14-day course of antibiotics for the infection and inflammation. White paid the $250 bill and took Max home.

For the next eight days, Max leaked urine so constantly that White finally put him in diapers. On Friday, April 9, she called Buhrman, who suggested she bring him back for a recheck. White vacillated, wondering whether she should wait out the weekend and see whether the drugs might have taken hold by then, and finally decided to wait. Buhrman suggested they try another drug, Proin, which White started Max on the next day.

On Thursday, April 15– when Max was no better– White decided to get a second opinion and took him, along with the X-ray and Buhrman's notes, to Benjamin Brown at the Augusta/Valley Animal Hospital.

According to White (Brown did not return my call requesting comment), the veterinarian examined Max and said the X-ray clearly showed what was wrong: his bladder was enlarged.

When Brown tried to insert a catheter in Max, White says he couldn't, due to "total blockage." According to White, Brown told her the necessary surgery would cost $1,076. She asked whether she could pay in installments, but he said no, because the clinic doesn't allow payment plans for new clients.

White claims Brown told her that if she couldn't afford the surgery, Max would have to be euthanized. At that point, she wrote in the log she later compiled, "I truly cried."

The next morning she called Westwood, the original clinic, repeated Dr. Brown's diagnosis, and was told to bring Max in "ASAP." She did, and Max was immediately taken to surgery.

The good news is that Max– who is steadily healing and getting back to the business of being a dalmatian– went home on April 19. The bad news is that White and Buhrman are now locked in dispute over the $934 bill, for which White signed a payment plan on the 19th ($460 down and three monthly payments of $158).

White wrote Buhrman on April 26 to summarize Max's treatment and request that the clinic write off the balance owed, which, at that point, was $474.

"I want you to know," she wrote, "that I am very appreciative of all you have done. It is just that there are some very questionable events that took place. So in all fairness I feel my balance should be written off as a loss." She then itemized what she'd paid so far, both to Westwood and Brown; the total came to $772.

In closing, she wrote, "I am a very up-front person, so in all fairness I am letting you know if we cannot come to an agreement I plan to go public with the matter and possibly will get advice from my lawyer."

Buhrman says she hadn't replied to White's letter because she and her partners considered it to be "very threatening" and had contacted their liability carrier, who advised Buhrman to have no contact with White.

Buhrman believes she did nothing wrong in missing the diagnosis, and states she had originally concluded that Max had a prostate problem. She also claims that after the original appointment on March 31, she had called White "two or three times" to offer rechecks and been turned down. White denies this and claims that the only time they talked was on April 9, when White placed a call.

White, who has paid another $158, still owes $316. I suspect she'll end up paying it all– and that she'll find a new vet.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at Box 4553, Charlottesville, VA 22905.