Overnight Supervision: Betsy’s Law Is Important To Know

Make sure to educate yourself about overnight accommodations
Make sure to educate yourself about overnight accommodations

In my little section of the world, the vets always seem to be available, and someone is always there. Because of my animal population, I am at the vet a lot, or on the phone with the vet a lot. Although I have three regular vets, I spend a lot of time at emergency clinics. These clinics are by definition 24 hour clinics, and I have dropped pets off at all hours of the night and day; visited pets at said clinics at midnight, 3 am, 4 pm, whenever I had a spare moment; and had at least two animals undergo emergency surgery after midnight on a weekend. However, because of my extensive history with medically needy and shy critters, the vets and I try to opt for letting me bring pets home whenever it is viable, knowing that my animals will be calmer in a familiar setting. But not everyone feels as comfortable administering medical procedures at home, and as I was pondering this, I became aware of Betsy’s Law.

Betsy’s Law

Betsy’s Law, enacted in New Jersey in 2015, was named for the 16-month old rottweiler pup of Madeleine Kayser. Betsy died in a veterinarian’s office while she stayed overnight after routine eye surgery. Kayser was told Betsy would need supervision so that she wouldn’t damage her stitches, which is why she chose to allow Betsy to stay. Kayser was never told that the office was not staffed 24 hours a day, and that no one would be present overnight. Her dog was left in a kennel in an unbreakable collar, which managed to get caught on part of the kennel. Betsy, tragically, was hanged. Although an accident, it was an avoidable accident, and Kayser fought tenaciously for 8 years to push through a bill that requires veterinarians and animal hospitals to post signage about lack of overnight staffing.

Betsy’s Law went into immediate effect in New Jersey when it passed in September 2015. As I hadn’t heard of it until recently, I only just started doing my own research on the topic of animals left overnight for hospitalization, and living in Washington rather than New Jersey, Betsy’s Law wouldn’t apply here. So, I got out my phone and called all my regular vet clinics to talk about the issue of overnight care.

Washington State Does What?

I was a bit surprised by what I found out. In her research, Kayser found that 90% of the vets in New Jersey did not have overnight supervision. Although my research was much less scientific than hers, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were similar numbers in Washington, and in many other states. One of my vets said that they very, very rarely have overnight patients (and then, only cats for some reason, which I didn’t follow up on at this time). This vet clinic put down their hours of operation as the biggest reason for this; they felt it was too long to go without supervision for most pets. (I think this is a great attitude, and was pretty happy about this response.) If there is ever an overnight cat, they assured me, then the doctor stops in at least once to oversee nighttime medications, etc. Although that is nice, I would point out that an animal who is having an acute medical situation may not be helped by being checked on once in the night.

My other two regular vet clinics–and don’t get me wrong, I love my vets–had answers that surprised me: There is NOT someone there overnight to watch after pets, but unlike the clinic mentioned above, in addition to having the occasional medical patient overnight, both of these clinics board pets for owners. In fact, although it has only happened once, I have boarded a cat with one of them because the nature of medication she was getting was beyond my petsitter’s abilities. I had NO IDEA that there wasn’t someone at that vet overnight! Both of these two clinics have people in every day–even days the clinic is not open–to look after kenneled animals, and the longest the animals would ever be left alone appears to be nine hours–roughly the amount of time I’m away from the house at work. For certain situations, as with the above clinic, the vet staff does rounds in the middle of the night.

Now, not to seem totally crazy, but if I have a sick pet, I don’t let nine hours go by without checking on them. I will arrange for a pet-friendly friend or family member to check on them, or just take a day off if I’m concerned that my pet needs more supervision. As mentioned above, for serious things, I’m generally at a 24-hour clinic. So, it’s not really that much of an issue for me… until I think about the one time I boarded a cat and had no idea she was alone all night.

Be an Advocate for your Pet

What is one to make of all this? Be an advocate for your pet. Be informed.

No one knows your pet like you do. Since Betsy’s Law only applies in New Jersey, the best thing any owner can do is ask questions, and be prepared to do what you think is right for your pet. I’ll admit that I don’t know if I would have used the one vet clinic to board my kitty if I had known they wouldn’t be there overnight. Kenneling is different from being medically fragile, but I wish I had thought to ask before I left her, just so I would know! But I’m also especially thankful that over the years I’ve asked our various vets, “Can you show me how to do that at home?” because it’s allowed me to keep my pets in a familiar place during stressful situations.

Again, I do love and respect my vets. But they don’t live with my crazy misfits every day like I do, so I need to have a say in decisions that affect them. Between my questions and knowledge of my pets, and the vets’ expertise, I feel that we can come up with the best game plan. Don’t underestimate your role in your pet’s health care. We want to avoid tragedies like that that happened to sweet Betsy.