I have been practicing veterinary medicine for seventeen years and have owned by own practice for nearly twelve. Yet, this past week I had a brand new experience. For the first time ever, I had a client openly try to blackmail me! He came into my office and demanded $1,000 or he was going to trash my practice’s reputation on Internet review sites… but if I gave him the money he would “go away quietly.” Wow!

The story actually started when my practice helped his older dog with a tooth abscess. My associate placed the pet on antibiotics and scheduled dental surgery. On the day of the procedure, our patient benefited from modern anesthetic protocols, IV fluids, careful monitoring, and other advanced anesthetic safety techniques. She handled the procedure well and recovered fully despite her advanced age. Our practice takes pride in our safe anesthetic experiences and we are routinely asked to perform anesthesia on otherwise higher risk patients. This was just another success story.

During a thorough oral examination and dental probing, we were able to identify the cause of the tooth abscess. There was foreign material that had worked its way above the gums and lodged against a tooth root. We extracted the infected tooth and kept the foreign material to show the owner.

Our digital dental x-rays revealed that the infection had eroded the skull bone around the tooth and had started to affect neighboring teeth. Fortunately, since we were able to detect otherwise unseen damage on x-rays, we had the opportunity to try to save the neighboring teeth. That’s something that wouldn’t have been possible just a few years ago.

To help regenerate the eroded tissue, my associate implanted a bone graft material and a gelatinous antibiotic matrix then sutured the gums to hold the material in place. This advanced dental procedure is likely to allow the dog to keep the rest of her molars – another success of modern veterinary care.

Our patient went hope happy, healthy, and pain free because of the care she received. The owner’s bill was well within the signed written estimate. We were proud of the care that was provided and were very happy our patient had done so well. This kind of story is the reason we love coming to work every day. Then the next day happened…

The dog’s owner came in and accused us of making up the abscess and extracting a tooth that didn’t need to come out – just to get more money. He suggested that he should have been given the option of removing the foreign material and just waiting to “see what would happen.” I pulled up the dental x-rays and showed him all the bone that had been affected by the abscess. I showed him where we were able to perform oral surgery that saved other teeth. I explained that it would have been medically inappropriate to leave behind a painful abscesses that could have resulted in a dangerous blood infection. I also pointed out that all of the care we provided was well within the agreed upon fees.

Perhaps naïvely, I thought he would retract his accusations and be pleased that his dog benefited from the high level of care we provided. I was wrong.

Despite now understanding that we could document the abscess had indeed existed and that it had been successfully treated, the owner simply said that he wanted $1,000 just to “keep quiet.” What? Was this really happening? This man pointed out that my business depended upon trust and that he could work to erode that trust… unless I paid him. Fortunately, I am confident in the reputation that I have worked to build over the course of my career. I felt quite comfortable asking this man to leave and never return to my practice.

This surprising episode taught me to be extra wary of negative online reviews for just about any business. I had never even considered that sometimes they might be the result of attempted extortion. It also made me appreciate even more all the people who have taken the time to leave my practice positive reviews over the years. They serve as a welcome buffer against this type of behavior.