A Devastating Lesson Learned About Senior Care

Sara&ZoeBlog Contributor: Sara Miller

I will never forget your tenderness and will love you always Zoe.

~Forever in our hearts~

Zoe-memorial picApril 28, 2015 is to date the worst day of my life. I lost my beloved dog, Zoe. This is the first dog I’ve lost, which means I now know first hand the torment you endure when you face this awful day. After losing Zoe I quickly realized that my vet, who I completely entrusted my dogs with, did not properly educate me about senior wellness care, blood work options for indicating potential abnormalities, and the importance of benchmark bloodwork. Zoe was not yet 10 years old (same with her sister Belle) and never once did they discuss senior wellness options with me, which had they, I would have absolutely done and they may have found issues with Zoe much sooner.

Please take time to read my letter that I wrote to this veterinary so that you never have to live with the guilt I now have to. I know it is long, but it may save your dog’s life. PLEASE be an advocate for your pet and talk to your vet about these things – be a more educated owner than I was for Zoe. If your dog is younger, talk to them about whether it’s right for you to do blood work so that you have a benchmark to work from in the future. If your dog is a senior, talk to them about regular blood work and other care options which may help indicate any potential abnormalities or early signs of issues. There are no guarantees that something may be found in these tests even if they are sick (we may never have found Zoe’s issues), but if you chose to take these steps, you’re at least doing what you can in your power and will know you’ve done what you could for your pet in the end. I found this information from the American Animal Hospital Association very informative about senior care.

I will not specifically call out this veterinary in this medium, but if you would like to know who it is, please feel free to email me and I will gladly share. I would like to thank two of UU’s vet partners, Fox River Animal Hospital (FRAH) and Appanasha. While FRAH already builds senior wellness care conversations into all of their senior clients, they discussed my story at their recent staff meeting as a reminder of why it is important to educate their clients. Since my experience, I have moved to Appanasha and the treatment and attention my dogs have received from Dr. Hurlburt and staff has been nothing short of unbelievable. I finally feel I can completely trust a vet and that he TRULY cares about my animals like they are his own, and right now that means the world.

Editors Note: Since sending this letter, I received a phone call from the owner of the veterinary who cared for ZoeHe indicated they have discussed this letter and will be making changes to ensure they are more consistently offering these senior care options to all senior clients. They have a senior wellness plan, but acknowledged this is not being consistently discussed with all clients.

Dear [name removed],

I am a client of [name removed] and hope you will take time to read about my story and truly consider what I am requesting. I have been with [name removed] since 2012, and at that time my two Chihuahuas were 7. Zoe, now at age 9, was laid to rest on April 28 very suddenly. My dogs are the only children I have and it was the absolute worst thing I’ve ever gone through. I got the diagnosis on that Monday and on Tuesday she was gone. When it goes that fast, you don’t get to properly say goodbye. Since then, I’ve since learned that there is vet care I should/could have had done that I never knew about, which may or may not have helped my Zoe, eased her pain, slowed the progression, or helped me prepare sooner. It was hard enough going through the deep pain of loss, but to know there was another step I could have taken for my dog simply kills me. I am someone who will take whatever steps I can for my dog’s health, and expected [name removed] to be my partner to help me do that for my dogs. Whether it be medication, surgery, other procedures, or simply more love at the end of their life if that’s the only option. I have always thought you were that, until my recent discoveries. Through my many experiences at [name removed] with multiple vets, [name removed] is not following the standards that many veterinaries in this area are, which is why I’m writing you.

I talked with two different individuals at [name removed] on May 1 regarding my situation after I learned about this care I was never offered. I did not catch the first person’s name, and the 2nd was Dr. [name removed], who saw Belle and Zoe for their annual visit last year. I appreciate their time to speak on behalf of Zoe, and especially Dr. [name removed] for being so candid with me. After talking to both, I confirmed [name removed] does not consistently build preventative blood work recommendations into discussions or the importance of adding it to their yearly wellness plan as seniors.

I realize that even if we found anything, I may not have been able to do anything for Zoe (but we do not know that because the option was never given to us). During all my time as a client there, I was never once told I should do regular blood panels for my seniors regardless of dentals and why. I was also never told by any vet at [name removed] that I should do benchmark blood work during an annual exam to look for early indications of abnormalities. [name removed], you should have been educating me on the proper senior care, and baseline care that I should be giving my dogs, separate from dentals and why. Even in the dental conversation, I was only told blood work was required for a dental at their age, not why. In that aspect, you failed me and my dogs, and I’m asking you to never do that to another person. I challenge you to change and be a better vet to the dogs who walk through your door.

[name removed] should be looking at how they can be providing the best vet care out there, so I ask that you speak to every client about why benchmark blood work is important, when it should be done at their pet’s age (not just seniors), why it should be done regularly for seniors, and what the implications are if you do or don’t do these. Clearly explain how that may look for their particular pet and how it may change for different health reasons. It is fine if dental should be paired with it, but make it explicitly clear why both are individually important and what that may tell an owner about the health of their pet. It doesn’t matter if most people won’t do this; it is your job to give every one of them the option to provide this care for their animal. It should be your goal to change one life through this. Because for someone like me, that may make all the difference in the world for their pet. I would have done this.

What is most heartbreaking is when I brought Zoe in on April 11 after we found blood in her stool, and I had to ask numerous times if it should be more closely looked at when it was written off initially. All I was offered was a blood count at that time, even though she hadn’t had a blood panel done since 2012. Either the vet hadn’t taken the time to review her charts to determine it was something I should consider or didn’t care enough to offer me a thorough review of Zoe’s situation. Had I known then what I know now about blood work, I would have required it be done. But I expect as a vet that you should be educating me on my options, and not leaving me to tell you what should be done. Had [name removed] offered that, at least it would have given me a few weeks to prepare for Zoe’s loss and provide her everything she deserved at the end of her life. I want my vet to care for my dogs as their own, it’s what my dogs and I deserve. That is not what [name removed] did for Zoe, or my Belle (who is the same age as Zoe). I’m not sure I can ever trust one of my dogs in the hands of [name removed] again, because you failed Zoe in the care she deserved. I will be bringing my dogs to another vet until I feel changes are in place. Again, I realize the outcome may not have ultimately been different, but that does not matter. Dogs like Zoe deserve that chance. The only reason any one of my dogs has had blood work done there was because they had a dental and one of my Chihuahuas came in with an injury. Additionally, my other two dogs, Ava and Naomi were just in for their yearly and benchmark blood work was never discussed. Again, knowing what I know now, [name removed] should be suggesting I have that done at this point, especially if you look at the history of these two rescue dogs.

According to AAHA, “senior preventive care is directed at making recommendations prior to the onset of disease in order to prevent or temper the effects of disease or adverse health conditions. This task force recommends that “senior” wellness tests begin for pets at middle age, to establish baseline values and to insure that there are no clinically silent health abnormalities. During middle age, retesting is recommended at least once a year (equivalent of 4 to 5 human years). Routine health care visits, including a minimum laboratory database, are recommended for senior animals (i.e., those in the last 25% of their predicted life span) every 6 months (equivalent of every 2 to 3 human years).” If you are personally already following this standard, that’s great, but I’ve seen multiple vets there and have not had this experience. I ask that you push for this to be a standard across all vets at [name removed].

I now lose sleep over what I missed for Zoe, mainly because I did not receive proper vet guidance. Because Zoe may have died before she needed to since [name removed] is not consistently offering comprehensive wellness care options. I’m telling you this in hopes you want to prevent clients from feeling this way. This is also not to mention I was not asked to do a urinalysis or fecal at any of my recent yearly exams for any of my dogs, including my seniors. I suggest you read this article by the AAHA regarding senior care.

Of course I want change in honor of Zoe, because she didn’t get all she deserved. But I simply want you to care enough too so that no other owner has to be left with any more ‘what if’s’ during their impossible end of life decisions. I am open to helping however I can bring change for [name removed], and would appreciate a response and update on changes via phone or email. Thank you for your time.


  1. What exactly happened with Zoe?

    • saranisler@gmail.com on Reply

      She had a large mass in her the size of an orange, and she was only a 4 lb. dog. After many tests, xrays, ultrasounds, the only option to exactly know what it was and determine if it was feasible to get out was to open her up. I didn’t want her to suffer, only give her a few more months or possibly die on the table so I decided to let her go before she truly suffered.

  2. Ginna L from Neenah, WI on Reply

    So very sorry for your loss of Zoe. Know what you’re going through, we have several rescue parrots. Had to put Ozzie down in Feb 2014, after fixing her from aspergillosis, a fungal lung infection, she then had a kidney tumor that could not be removed by surgery, which we tried. Our vet was very caring and informative, unfortunately there are so many vets AND doctors for people as well that don’t look at their “job” as a “responsibility” of diagnosing someone’s LIFE and options that can affect their future care and end results. I lost my husband unexpectedly on March 21, 2015 due to a very enlarged heart that probably should have been found with all the tests done. I commend you for writing your letter and I truly hopes it helps someone else to not have to go through what you did. My birds are my children also!

  3. I can tell how much you loved her and I am so very sorry for your pain. The what if are the hardest to endure.

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