27 Oct 2004, 04:17:04 PM

Reporter: Helen Wellings

Pet owners and their vets - it's like doctors and patients, we trust them. But as you're about to see when there's a dispute over pet care, hostilities can run rife.

Just a few of the 64% of Australians who own pets. We have more pets than people, almost 30 million, including a staggering 4 million dogs and 2 and a half million cats. And we shell out big on their health, spending $712 million a year on vet bills, but that treatment sometimes brings only pain.

Kathrine Learmonth is outraged. Her precious oriental cat Simone went in just to have her teeth cleaned, but came home with horrific scars of surgery.

"She'd had all her canine teeth ripped out and they'd also tried to desex her but she was already desexed before."

Katherine says the vet, Graham Nelson of Affordable Vet Care in Brisbane didn't even bother to tell her about his unbelievable mistake and charged her $100.

But it's not the first time Graham's mistreated an animal in his care.

"We put a normal cat in there and got a brain damaged cat back" said Kathy.

Kathy Cooper trusted Graham to desex her family cat Lilly, but afterwards...

"She seemed really drowsy and not really well, his comment to me was that if I'd just had my uterus cut out I wouldn't look too well either."

An emergency vet told her Lilly was deprived of oxygen during the procedure, so suffered brain damage.

"It had a drug reaction I remember the cat never stopped breathing it had a drug reaction and didn't wake up properly" explains Graham. "I'm only human we try very hard I can give you a list of 1000's very happy with our services."

The Australian Veterinary Association's Robert Hedlefs comment: "If an animal has approval for a procedure and something else happens then the board would look at that as a breach of the act and consider all the facts of the case."

The families have complained to Queensland's Vet Board, asking for a refund and an apology from Graham Nelson.

Kathy Delaney's travelled 40 kilometers everyday for 2 weeks to visit Holly the collie, who went in for emergency surgery after an accident. But, as an unemployed nurse due to an injury, she can't afford the mounting vet's bill, now almost $1300. And the surgery refuses to release Holly until she's paid.

"You're not thinking. I was so distressed so upset at the thought that Holly could die that money doesn't factor into it. You just says please save her!"

Kathy says within half an hour of treatment, they asked for a couple of hundred dollars, which she couldn't pay.

"But the next day the bill was astronomical it was $1200 and I had no idea it was going to jump to that amount."

Paul Hanson is not Holly's vet, but he says Kathy didn't meet the criteria for their easy payment plan when Kathy offered to make progress payments. But Kathy's complaint has now really angered the vets.

"Now they say I can't see my dog anymore. They've told me until, I've paid the bill I'm not to see her and I won't get her back until I've paid the bill. [How are you going to get the money?] I'll just get it just get it somehow I'm waiting for jobs to ring me back and I'll get it."

Dr. Norm Blackman of the Australian Veterinary Association says the Vet's Code of Ethics requires them to discuss charges with clients before starting treatment. "We encourage all vets to make sure that there is what we call a consent form signed by the client, which outlines the sorts of things that are involved and the arrangements in relation to the costs."

Some advice, vets, like any traders, generally have a right of lien over goods in their service ... legally they can keep an animal until the bill has been paid. Later you can dispute that amount, and sue. But if a vet mistreated your pet, you have every right to a refund and to lodge a complaint to the Veterinary Association. PET OWNER