If Buster the Yorkie had a certified veterinary technician, would he have survived in-home surgery?

FORT COLLINS, Colo. - Buster the Yorkie died on the kitchen table of his owners' Fort Collins home as a licensed veterinarian performed an in-home neutering surgery.

The veterinarian had her 16-year-old daughter administer the dog's anesthesia during the procedure, and the dog never woke up.

According to a necropsy report from the Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, no pre-existing condition explained Buster's death immediately after surgery.

7NEWS reporter Amanda Kost revealed that, in Colorado, the procedure was perfectly legal. The teen could assist in a pet's operation because, under state law because, she was under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian.

"You can call the 14 year old from down the street a veterinary technician in the state of Colorado," said Julie Pelletier, executive director of the Colorado Association of Certified Veterinary Technicians.

Buster's owner, Dennis Clark, has filed a complaint with the state board of veterinary medicine.

Clark told 7NEWS he was shocked to learn that anyone can assist in veterinary surgery as long as a licensed veterinarian supervises.

"This happened because the state of Colorado has no laws in effect governing the training and the requirements of who can administer anesthesia," said Clark.

The Colorado Association of Certified Veterinary Technicians, not the state of Colorado, governs and certifies certified vet technicians.

"Is there a problem in the state of Colorado with certified vet techs?" Kost asked.

"I think that there is a problem in lack of [public] awareness, that we exist, and that that means something, and that there is quality and skill and education behind that [certification]," said Pelletier.

But credentialing for veterinary technicians is voluntary in Colorado.

"That doesn't mean that there isn't a standard for credentialing for veterinary technicians," Pelletier explained. "What it means is that as (of) yet, we are not regulated by the state of Colorado through the Department of Regulatory Agencies."

There are more than 2,000 certified veterinary technicians in Colorado, Pelletier said. 

"That doesn't really matter if clinics and veterinarians aren't using them?" asked Kost.

"Right," Pelletier replied. "There's an undermining situation that occurs naturally in that process. I think that is where not having state regulation can become a difficulty, because the responsibility is on the public to know and understand."

The bottom line: Because the state doesn't certify vet techs, veterinary clinics aren't required to use assistants who meet a standard of education and training.

"I think the main point is that the public understands who they are dealing with when they walk into the clinical setting. Because you know, there are on-the-job trained veterinary technicians who do a great job with what they do. So really, it’s a matter of awareness," said Pelletier.

She suggests asking specific questions before having a pet treated.

"I would ask your technician if they're a certified veterinary technician. I would ask your veterinarian, if the technician handling your pet is a certified veterinary technician. And if they’re not, that's not necessarily a bad thing, but why?  You know, what's the reasoning behind [not using a certified tech]?" explained Pelletier.

Pelletier said that, "Hands down we [Certified Veterinary Technicians] have a responsibility to those patients to be at the highest caliber of our skill and education and to do what's right for them.”

"The reality is that Buster's life and death is a tragedy. It's an absolute tragedy, but it also provides an opportunity to create awareness in the public to prevent situations like this in the future, by building awareness around how veterinary technicians are credentialed in the state of Colorado," said Pelletier.

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