A love for animals unites most pet lovers – but it can divide us just as much. Most of us agree on a few basic things: pets deserve to be happy, healthy, and loved – but how they should receive those things is often the subject of debate.
Recently 11Alive.com shared what appeared to be the heartwarming story of Dr. John Keating, an orthopedic surgeon in Atlanta, Georgia, who studied to perform surgery on humans but had a passion for helping pets. It began when Dr. Keating received a desperate phone call from a friend, Dr. Michael Good, the chief veterinarian at The Good Clinic in nearby Marietta, Georgia.
Dr. Good was facing a crisis. A stray dog had been brought into his clinic with a broken leg, and the cost of surgery was too much for the rescue group who was caring for him to afford. The only option was to euthanize, but Dr. Good couldn’t do it – he said the dog was too full of life. Dr. Keating agreed to help, and performed the surgery under Dr. Good’s supervision for free, giving the pup another chance he would not have had without them. That was the day Surgeons for Strays was born.
Together with Dr. Good, Dr. Keating would use his spare time to perform surgery for free to pets who were in need of surgical intervention to live. Surgeries can cost thousands and thousands of dollars every time a pet goes under the knife, but the vet and the surgeon would reach into their own pockets to cover the costs. Rescue groups whose pets were treated by the two felt that the pair were a blessing. One rescue representative told 11Alive,
“He’s extraordinary. To have a heart like that, with his reputation as one of the top ortho surgeons, there’s just no words to say thank you.”
She recalled a dog who had suffered a beating with a baseball bat and required three surgeries – just one would have cost the rescue $15,000. Without Drs. Good and Keating, that dog and dozens others would have been euthanized. Not once did they lose a patient, and they say every surgery went off without a hitch.
However, not everyone felt gratitude for Surgeons for Strays. After the story was published, there was a sudden and unexpected backlash from local veterinarians. Though the two doctors weren’t doing anything illegal, veterinarians claimed they were exploiting a loophole in the state law that ought to be closed. Pet medical professionals were concerned when they saw photos of post-op x-rays that they said showed glaring, dangerous errors in the surgeries performed. They also pointed out that although Dr. Good claimed to supervise every surgery, he is not a veterinary surgeon. Others were suspicious that he didn’t appear to be present in any photos of the procedures that were posted online by Surgeons for Strays.
A complaint from one concerned party was filed with the Georgia Board of Veterinary Medicine stating,
“Our concern is that these patients weren’t being handled in the best way because of lack of training. To be a vet surgeon we have four years of surgery training after four years of vet schools. So we think we do a good job and take pride in what we do.
“We do at-cost surgeries almost daily, and we just consider it part of our job, but we need to do a better job of letting people know there is a mechanism for caring for rescue patients.”
As word spread about Surgeons for Strays, the veterinary community also took to social media and even started a petition to have the organization shut down. A post from one veterinarian put it bluntly:
“What is going on at Surgeons for Strays is deplorable. Human orthopedic surgeons are NOT qualified to be performing veterinary orthopedic surgeries. Performing surgery on our animal patients is a privilege and a SKILL that is acquired over 9+ years of professional study. Surgeons for Strays, this is NOT a service mission. You are putting these animals at risk for serious, life-altering complications and infections.
“Cats and dogs are not your practice dummies.
“Stay. In. Your. Lane.”
Unfortunately, some felt that just stating their displeasure was not enough, and Dr. Keating began to receive threats. One veterinarian who shared a post encouraging others to spread the word about Surgeons for Strays felt the need to remove the post when she heard that he was being harassed.
“Since the post went viral, threats have been made towards Dr. Keating and I find that extremely disheartening. We were trying to stop something that we knew was wrong, but threatening someone’s life is not the way to do it. The intention of the post was not to threaten the safety of those involved with “Surgeons for Strays”, but to bring awareness to the higher ups on medical and veterinary boards, and shut it down.
“As a group, the veterinary community is no stranger to threats of violence, accusations of greed and being “cold hearted”, as well as threats on hospitals, doctors and staff. It is these types of comments and threats that are adding to the increasing number of depression and suicide in the veterinary profession. We cannot allow ourselves to become a part of that problem for someone else. I would like us as a whole to celebrate the closure of “Surgeons for Strays” without any more threats to those who were involved with the group. Instead, continue to encourage and educate others about the importance of helping out proper rescue groups, and making sure animals are actually being treated by licensed veterinarians.”
After a huge outcry, the Georgia Veterinary Medical Association opened an investigation into the matter, and made the following statement:
Although Dr. Keating and Dr. Good didn’t face any immediate legal repercussions for their work, they felt the extreme pressure coming from the veterinarians who opposed it. They made the decision to dissolve Surgeons for Strays.
Dr. Keating’s passion has been taken from him, and veterinarians are celebrating the closure of an organization that they say was dangerous to pets. But is it to the benefit or detriment of the animals who were treated? Let us know what you think on Facebook.