Modern society has become so integrated with the digital world that is can often be difficult to function when things go “wrong.”  Power outages and internet failures can lead to a disruption of businesses and can make simple acts like paying a bill much more challenging.  Along with this digitally reliant world, the social media world has also exploded in recent years.  Although it has brought people across the world much “closer,” sometimes is can be challenging to remember that actions taken on social media platforms can have very real effects on actual people.   

As a veterinary hospital, Alpine Animal Hospital’s purpose is to provide veterinary care and services to the people and pets of the Roaring Fork Valley.  Our mission statement: We are dedicated to the well-being of our patients throughout their lives. We use our knowledge and skills to provide the best possible care while balancing empathy for our clients and compassion for our patients.  That being said we are also a business, and we utilize social media to maintain a digital presence and work toward our mission online.  We recently experienced a very real happening that caused our team much stress, fear, and anxiety; we were cyberbullied.

In mid-October, we saw a patient in our hospital who, according to the person that found her, had been found on the side of the road in Basalt roughly 5 days earlier.  At that time, the individual informed us that they had called local shelters to see if anyone had reported a missing cat.  During this appointment, the cat was found to be very painful in her rear limbs and suffering from a bladder infection, bladder stones, and terrible dental infections.  The client continued to care for the cat for another week while waiting for any word from a possible owner after hearing from a local shelter that the cat would likely not be adoptable if not claimed by the owner within 10 days.  We also posted her photo on our Facebook page in hopes of helping her find her true owner.  Due to her need for care, the cat was relinquished to Alpine Animal Hospital for continued care and medical treatment.  Over the past month, this cat has been treated for her arthritis and urinary tract infection, her bladder stones have been dissolved with prescription food, and most recently, she underwent extensive surgery for severe dental infections that had eroded at the bones between her palate and nasal cavity.

In mid-November, another person came into the hospital to drop off a deceased pet for cremation and saw a picture of the cat on a computer screen.  The situation quickly escalated to verbal attacks and screaming from the client that we had stolen her grandmother’s cat and was thrown outside by another family member because she was urinating in the house.  Due to the aggression and verbal attacks on our staff, as well as a lack of proof of ownership, we declined to present the cat to this client at that time.  Over the next few days, this person attacked this hospital through online sources (Facebook and Google).  After being advised by our attorney not to respond to the comments, harassment, and defamation, we remained silent and did not join in the “conversations.”  Unfortunately, the situation progressed out of hand, and we reached out to local authorities to determine the next best course of action for the cat in question.

As this happened over a weekend, there was little action we could take.  The following Monday, the team arrived at the hospital unsure what would be waiting.  Many people had joined the online discussion over the weekend and were angry with us for “stealing” this person’s cat.  Would there be protesters outside our hospital, and would there be vandalism?  Fortunately, this was not the case. We did have some threatening messages that caused even more stress and anxiety.  Shortly after we opened, the person claiming ownership of the cat arrived unannounced.  This person was calm and rational, had proof of ownership, and wanted to sit down with leadership and discuss the situation.  After a rational discussion between the involved parties, a decision was made to return the cat to her home of 15 years.  Our reason for caring for this lost cat was just that, to provide needed medical care and a loving home for her for the rest of her days.  Alpine Animal Hospital is not in the business of “stealing” animals; we provide compassionate medical care. We did not charge for the care we provided, we educated the family on what would be best for the cat in the future, and we sent her home, glad that she is going to be with people that love her.    

The reason that we are sharing this story is that we want people to learn that there can be very real consequences to actions taken in the digital and social media world.  It can affect people’s lives, business operations, and the mental state of everyone involved.  Although we recognize the necessity of a digital world, we want people to remember that the real world is where conversations and important messages should be shared.  If you see something online, please don’t jump to conclusions.  Do some research and talk to BOTH sides before condemning the people that were simply trying to save an old cat.