Posted on April 3, 2016
Betsy’s Law: New Jersey Veterinarians Must Disclose Absence of Overnight Supervision for Hospitalized Patients
Although I don’t know Madeleine Kayser, I feel certain she is a profoundly passionate and persistent woman. Eight years of tenacious hard work on her part were required to achieve implementation of “Betsy’s Law”. Passed in September 2015, this New Jersey law requires veterinarians to notify their clients if they do not provide 24-hour care for hospitalized animals.
According to Betsy’s Law this notification can be accomplished by placing signage in a “conspicuous location” with the following language: “This veterinary facility does NOT provide supervision for animals after normal business hours by a person physically on these premises.” The sign must be printed in a font of at least 24-point. Notification can also be performed via placing this message in a font of at least 12-point on an intake/admissions from provided to the client.
Who is Betsy?
New Jersey resident, Madeleine Kayser was present when the legislation she fought so hard for was finally signed into law. She was holding a photo of her beloved sixteen-month-old Rottweiler named Betsy who died while hospitalized overnight following eye surgery. Kayser was told that her dog needed supervision so that she wouldn’t harm her stitches. On the basis of such a recommendation, Madeleine naturally assumed that the clinic would provide nighttime staffing. Tragically, this was not the case, and Betsy died from suffocation when the collar used to prevent her from pawing at her stitches became caught on something within her enclosure. No one was there to intervene.
Following Betsy’s death in 2007, Kayser performed some research and learned that 90 percent of veterinary clinics and hospitals in New Jersey do not provide 24-hour supervision. This prompted her to get to work on the legislation now known as Betsy’s Law. “I’m thrilled the law was passed, but I feel there shouldn’t be a need for legislation. Pets should not be neglected especially once in the vet’s care. That’s just the ethical way to look at it. If this law saves one pet’s life, then my hard work was worth it.”
Response of veterinarians
Some New Jersey veterinarians feel that Betsy’s Law protects the animals they hospitalize and also protects their practices from litigation. Dr. Fritz McHugh stated, “I will even have people sign it to the effect that there’s no one that will be watching their pet because my facility doesn’t have 24-hour care.”
Others are less enthusiastic about Betsy’s Law. Dr. Howard Silberman, veterinarian and owner of Tri-County Animal Hospital stated, “I think the whole situation is very sad and unfortunate for both the family and the animal hospital. No veterinarian expects something horrible like that to happen and I am sure they were devastated. However, the number of these horrific situations is minuscule.”
Dr. Silberman went on to explain that, overnight, most animals are generally just sleeping comfortably, and with the technology of fluid pumps, they can safely receive intravenous fluids without supervision.
In response to Dr. Silberman, I say, “b_ _ _ sh_ t!” (I’ve yet to use an expletive in a blog post, but I guess it’s about time!) I adamantly believe that round-the-clock care is a completely reasonable expectation for animals with issues significant enough to warrant hospitalization. Such animals are better off at home under the watchful eye of their human companions than they are left unsupervised for 12-plus hours in a hospital setting.
Unless profoundly ill or heavily sedated, most dogs left alone in a hospital for lengthy periods are not simply “sleeping comfortably.” Many are uncomfortable physically and/or psychologically, and this discomfort results in agitation, vocalizing, pacing, pawing, and/or jumping up at the front of their cage or run. This most certainly was the case for poor Betsy.
As to the notion that the number of deaths of unsupervised hospitalized animals is “miniscule,” Dr. Silberman you must know that such deaths do not feel miniscule to the shocked and dismayed individuals who believed that their pets were in capable and attentive hands.
I understand that Madeleine Kayser is working on a memoir about her painful journey to Betsy’s Law. This will be a must-read for me. Thank you to my reader, Amy who turned me on to Betsy’s Law.
Would you like to see legislation similar to Betsy’s Law in your home state?
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook
Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.