Update: Maine Veterinary Medical Center has released a statement in response to WGME’s reporting. You can read the statement here.
Just hours after surrendering her puppy over a massive emergency vet bill, a Kennebunk woman said she came up with the money, but the clinic refused to return her dog.
Rachel Mullen said she got Jaxx, a 4-month-old German shepherd, from a breeder in March.
“I fell in love with him,” Mullen said.
A couple of weeks ago, she said the puppy got curious and ended up with a wooden skewer in his belly.
Mullen said her veterinarian recommended Maine Veterinary Medical Center, a 24-hour emergency clinic, and Jaxx was admitted on a Thursday night.
“The last thing I did was gave him a hug and a kiss and told him to go get better,” Mullen said.
The next morning, Mullen said, the center called to tell her that Jaxx needed surgery at a cost of more than $10,000.
The center’s website says 50 percent of the estimate is due upfront and the rest upon completion of services. It states that “MVMC does not offer any payment plan options,” but does accept credit cards, CareCredit and personal checks.
“You can’t come up with $10,000, unless you have very big pockets, in six hours,” Mullen said.
Mullen said she and her fiance scrambled all day, looking into financing options, but only qualified for a small fraction of the cost.
“I was given the option to pay or surrender him,” Mullen said.
Around 4:30 p.m., Mullen said, the center told her Jaxx urgently needed surgery, so much so they couldn’t wait 30 minutes for her to come in person.
She surrendered ownership electronically.
“I signed the paper so they would help him,” Mullen said.
Even still, Mullen said, she was on the hook for close to $3,000.
Devastated, Mullen didn’t give up and started a GoFundMe page. With the help of friends, family and Jaxx’s breeder, she came up with the money before 9 p.m.
“I called and said I had the money and I want to try and get my dog back,” Mullen said.
She said the veterinary center told her Jaxx was gone and she couldn’t get him back. Now she doesn’t know where Jaxx is or how he’s doing.
“My kids cry and ask about him every day,” Mullen said.
A spokesperson for Rarebreed, Maine Veterinary Medical Center’s parent company, said surrendering a pet is a “legally binding contract” and declined to share the company’s policies on surrenders, only saying that they do work with shelters and rescues.
Patsy Murphy, the executive director of the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, called the case unusual.
Murphy said the shelter gets calls from veterinarians in these types of situations and often have conversations about what the animal needs and the owner’s capacity to care for the pet.
“It’s a frequent conversation because of the financial impact that families are experiencing now with the high cost of vet care,” Murphy said.
She said their priority is to keep pets and owners together.
The Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland was not contacted about Jaxx the puppy, Murphy said.
Mullen still isn’t giving up.
“That’s my boy,” Mullen said.
She said she’s filed a police report over the puppy and shared her concerns with the state’s Board of Veterinary Medicine.
Organizations only have to be licensed to rehome pets if they’re selling them or charging a fee to adopt. Otherwise, a veterinary clinic, or anyone else, can take ownership of a surrendered animal and decide where it ends up, according to Maine’s Animal Welfare Program.
Story by Marissa Bodnar.