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Hawthorn Veterinary Hospital

On the heels of my wonderful experience at Sears came a polar opposite experience at our vet – the only similarity being that each story is rich in lessons for all of us who interact with that strange class of people known as “customers”.

I guess we’ve been going to Hawthorn Veterinary Hospital (HVH) for close to 20 years. Dr. J. was middle-aged back then, and he was a good vet and a good man. My wife wouldn’t go anywhere else with the dogs, cats, and rabbits which came and went over the years. Dr. J. was a trusted member of our extended family.

But apparently “all good things must come to an end”.

Not so long ago Dr. J. sold his practice to VCA. I don’t begrudge him that – in fact I’m very happy for him. I believe that he did the right thing, perhaps a bit late, and I wish him a wonderful, long and well-earned retirement.

He also did the right thing in hiring his heir apparent, Dr. K (a/k/a Dr. Dimitri). We think Dr. K. is pretty terrific.

But we had started noticing a downhill slide at HVH in the past year or two.

EVENT #1 – Our diabetic cat, Baby, had been on a special canned and dry cat food diet which HVH had been selling to us since he was first diagnosed. The food did seem to stabilize Baby and it seemed like he would live a good long life. But one day HVH sold us the wrong food. A simple mistake but a fatal one. By the time we realized the error, Baby was too far gone and he eventually had to be put down. He was our son’s cat, and the two had been inseparable. It was terribly sad.

EVENT #2 – My wife’s favorite dog, an over-sized Chihuahua named Chili, was wheezing the way Chihuahuas will. Dr. J. was to operate on his pallet – it’s the normal surgical remedy for this condition. But when we picked up Chili, the wrong operation had been performed. Still having faith in Dr. J., my wife brought her precious pet back some weeks later for the right operation and our account was credited for the error. All was forgiven and Chili is doing fine.

EVENT #3 – The billing for Baby’s last visit was a lot more than we expected. It seems that one of the office staff at HVH had asked our son if he wanted the ashes, never mentioning that this service was very expensive. No mention of this was made to my wife, who was right there but out of earshot. We concluded that they had taken advantage of our son in his time of grieving, for their financial gain. We began to understand the difference between HVH and VCA, and we weren’t liking VCA.

EVENT #4 – The final blow was quite unexpected, and had nothing to do with the medical staff. When my wife paid for Baby’s last visit, the clerk allegedly stole our Discover Card number. Some day I’ll post about Discover, because their fraud prevention algorithms and staff are fantastic. But this post is about VCA.

Discover called. We found about $7,000 of false charges. Discover fixed it. A Vernon Hills detective contacted us and took a statement from my wife. We understood that the individual had been arrested. VHPD told me last week that the case is still pending but most likely the ADA will reach a plea agreement which will avoid a trial. Tidbits we have learned include that the clerk had a prior record for substantially the same fraud at her previous employment, that HVH does not do background checks on new employees, that we were not the only ones taken by her during her employment at HVH, and that HVH is not notifying their customers.

When we contacted HVH the attitude of their office manager (Practice Manager), Mary, was not what I expected. She told us:
– It’s not our fault
– We’re not to blame
– It was not us, but only our employee
– We’re not responsible

As insane as this was, what was more upsetting is what she did not say – there was no apology. No effort to help us deal with this event. No sympathy. No embarrassment. No explanation. No, not even an attempt to say, “I’m sorry”.

The only communication we ever received from HVH was a letter forgiving the “ashes” charges for Baby and an invoice. And another. And late charges. Yes, I know we should have paid the $200 but we were, well, fuming. I wrote a letter:

VCA Hawthorn Animal Hospital
203 Route 45
Vernon Hills, IL 60061

December 14, 2009

Subject: Account of Wendy & Bill Way

Thank you for your letter and offer of compromise as regards our open account. I believe that your offer is well-intended and seems generally reasonable.

The one issue you have not addressed is the fraud allegedly committed by your employee under your direct and negligent supervision, which resulted in a serious invasion of our privacy. You will recall that she allegedly stole our Discover Card number and charged more than a thousand dollars of goods to our account. As it now sits, I understand that Wendy or I (probably Wendy) will need to be deposed and perhaps testify to a grand jury or at trial, or both. Given Wendy’s health, this is no small issue. What amount would you suggest that we sue you for in this regard? I’d like to factor that into our response to our response [sic] to your offer.


William S. Way

As I said, I was fuming. There was no reply to my letter, so after several weeks I called and spoke to Mary. I told her:
– An apology was in order
– As much as we like the vets we think the office staff is lacking
– That my goal was to achieve a result where we could move forward and put this behind us.

In response we received a letter:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Way:

After our recent conversation and consultation with both the medical director and the regional manager I have forgiven the remaining balance of $200.63 that was on your account.

In reviewing the situation, we feel it is in everyone’s best interest that you continue your pet’s veterinary services elsewhere. Although I am happy we resolved the monetary issues, our doctors cannot comfortably treat your pets after the suggestion of suing our facility.

We regret to inform you that we have inactivated your account here at VCA Hawthorn Animal Hospital. We will forward a copy of your medical records to either you or your future veterinarian upon request.

We wish you success with your veterinary services in the future.



I guess that means that Hell will freeze over before we ever get that apology.

Some day I’d like to chat with Dr. J. about all of this – to get his perspective. It seems to me that without intending to do so, he sold his legacy along with his practice. I wonder what that was worth.


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