Tears still come easily to Leonard Braun, even in a crowded coffee shop.
A large man – at six-foot-eight – he has to pause every now and then as he remembers what he calls the hardest decision of his life: to have his seven-year-old dog, Echo, put down in December.
What hurts much more is that Braun believes Echo would still be alive if an animal hospital had not ejected him and his German Shepherd.
Because Ontario’s Veterinary Act requires vets to complete treatment of an animal in their care, Braun plans to file a complaint with the College of Veterinarians of Ontario about his visit to the Alta Vista Animal Hospital on Dec. 10.
None of the allegations regarding the animal hospital’s actions have been proven in a court of law.
Braun said Echo woke him up on Dec. 10 at 2 a.m.
“He was making a high-pitched whine, like a shriek, that he’d never made before in his life,” Braun said. “He couldn’t walk up stairs from the basement. I tried to touch him but he wouldn’t let me.”
He called some friends who arrived with a station wagon and Echo was taken to an animal hospital in the city’s west end.
“They said to take him to the Alta Vista Animal Hospital,” Braun said, adding that the Alta Vista site has the only MRI machine for pets in the city. “That’s when the nightmare began.”
Echo was examined at the Alta Vista Animal Hospital.
Notes that Braun later requested showed that a Dr. DeAbreu examined Echo and found he had “pain on palpitation of lumbar spine.” The notes also say two things were administered by injection: Hydro (probably hydrocodone, a painkiller) and Metacam, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory usually prescribed for dogs with joint pain.
Braun and Echo returned to their Kanata home, but later the same day, Echo was feeling worse.
“He could barely move his head,” Braun said.
After visiting a west-end animal hospital, Braun was told Echo had a problem with a disc in his spine, and to seek an MRI and treatment at the Alta Vista Animal Hospital.
Braun called the Alta Vista office and says a neurotechnician told him a vet there who is known as a specialist in canine spinal surgery was “ready to go” and even if he was not at work, the doctor would be called in immediately.
Braun took Echo to the Alta Vista Animal Hospital, arriving around 5:30 p.m. with his pet and a friend.
At 7 p.m., Braun was told there were three dogs ahead of Echo awaiting treatment. He said he and the friend waiting with him asked again at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., but they received no information.
A little later, Braun said the office manager asked him to step out of the waiting area. Braun said she pointed her finger at him.
“She said, ‘We’re denying you service, get out,’” Braun said.
Braun said Echo was rolled out of the animal hospital on a gurney by two vet technicians.
“He was muzzled; my friends can tell you this. One tech grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and the other grabs him where he’s hurting, and they just threw him in the back of the car,” he alleged.
Brian Element, a friend of Braun’s, was there when Echo was rolled out. It was Element’s car that the animal hospital staff put Echo into.
“They picked him up and shoved him in,” he alleged. “He screamed in pain. I’ll never forget that sound.”
Element said he asked to talk to the office manager.
“She didn’t give us any reason, just that they were refusing service,” he said, adding he even offered to stay at the animal hospital and have Braun leave.
His suggestion was also refused without any explanation, Element said.
In a panic, Braun called other animal clinics around the city seeking help, but said he was told the same thing over and over again; “They all said Alta Vista (Animal Hospital) is the only place in Ottawa (that can do the surgery).”
Braun left the Alta Vista Animal Hospital at 10:30 p.m., returning to the first hospital he had visited earlier in the day.
“There I had to face the hardest decision of my life,” Braun said.
Further MRI and surgical options could be available in Montreal or Toronto, Braun said, but the cost was estimated at $8,000 to $10,000. Echo would also face a drive that would clearly be painful.
“I had no idea what to do. I’m still beside myself,” Braun said a month later, with tears in his eyes. “At midnight he was put down.”
Braun recalls how smart Echo was.
“He could get a carton of milk from the fridge,” he said.
He said a purebred German Shepherd like Echo has a life expectancy of 12 to 14 years. He purchased him from a breeder he knew well, near his childhood home of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., who imports dogs from Europe.
“I took him to the vet every five or six months, he had all his shots,” Braun said. “My friends called him a marshmallow. He was super laid back.”
Braun has paralegal training and knew evidence of the Alta Vista Animal Hospital’s conduct would have to be preserved if he decided to take legal action or seek professional sanctions from the College of Veterinarians of Ontario for the way Echo was treated.
On Dec. 11, the morning following Echo’s death, Braun delivered a legal letter to the Alta Vista Animal Hospital requesting a number of records that would have been created during Echo’s treatment, including videotapes from security cameras that might show how Echo was treated during his stay and during his removal from the Alta Vista hospital by two technicians.
So far, he has only received some medical notes about Echo’s visits.
The demand that the hospital preserve all evidence prompted a quick response.
“Seven hours later two lawyers were at my door with a letter that says, ‘If you come back to the Alta Vista Animal Hospital you will be charged with criminal trespass,’” Braun said.
Braun shared a copy of the letter from the Alta Vista Animal Hospital’s lawyer, Vicky Satta, of the Ottawa law firm Emond Harnden.
The letter accuses Braun of being “derogatory, demeaning and insulting” to the Alta Vista Animal Hospital’s staff.
The letter also states that the animal hospital staff “assessed your pet and provided appropriate medical care,” and says a manager asked Braun not to return to the Alta Vista Animal Hospital “for service in future,” but makes no mention of his being asked to leave while Echo still required treatment.
The letter ends by informing Braun that if he returns to the animal hospital, he will be “prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Braun said he later asked the friends who were waiting with him if he acted inappropriately.
“They said I was just crying,” he said.
“If I was derogatory or demeaning, why not supply me with the videotape (of the waiting area)?” Braun asked. “If I was derogatory and demeaning, why did you let me sit there for four hours?”
The hospital director at Alta Vista Animal Hospital, Steve Sidoli, said Braun was “belligerent” during the Dec. 10 evening visit.
Sidoli said Echo was “treated and stabilized,” and that when Braun was asked to leave, staff offered to make an appointment for Echo with a neurologist elsewhere.
“The relationship (between the hospital and Braun) is frustrated,” Sidoli said.
A key question the College of Veterinarians of Ontario must consider based on a complaint is if the Alta Vista Animal Hospital released Echo before he received the care he needed.
Asked if Echo needed surgery when he was released by the Alta Vista Animal Hospital, Sidoli said Echo “needed to see a neurologist, but it wasn’t urgent.”
“That’s not a medical opinion as I’m not a medical professional,” he said.
Alta Vista is the only Ottawa animal hospital that offers neurological services that Echo appeared to require. Sidoli said Alta Vista Animal Hospital staff provided Braun with contact information for a clinic in Montreal that offers neurological care before Braun left the Alta Vista hospital on Dec. 10.
“We treat 25,000 cases a year and this is not a common occurrence,” he said of Braun being asked to leave.
Braun understands the courts consider pets to be property and will only measure Echo’s value in dollars. He bought Echo for $3,000 and while he would like the Alta Vista Animal Hospital to be responsible for that amount, he’s more interested in having other pet owners know how he was treated.
If the case does go to civil court – and Braun plans to file a case in court – Braun expects evidence from the Alta Vista Animal Hospital, including videos, could be presented, along with statements from the animal hospital’s staff.
If a complaint goes forward at the College of Veterinarians of Ontario, discipline ranges from reprimands to fines to revocation of a vet’s licence if a member of the college has shown “disregard for the welfare” of an animal.
“He was the best faithful and loyal companion,” Braun said of Echo. “I miss him greatly; coming to me when I come home, putting his head on my lap.
“I feel like they should have fixed him and they wouldn’t.”