Weathering the Storm of a Cyberbullying Attack
“We cannot control the ocean we are in nor the height, frequency, and intensity of the waves. All we can do is work hard to fortify our boats (collectively and individually) to weather the storm better.” – Dr. Lindsay Ruland
Almost three months ago, my clinic experienced a cyberbullying attack that left me in a very dark place. Like most ER clinics, we have been insanely busy. Despite my team working hard every day, saving lives, and making a difference in literally thousands of animals’ lives every month… All it took was one unhappy client to try and bring that down. “Try” being the keyword.
This person made a Tiktok video calling us murderers (I was not involved in the case nor on shift but was targeted simply by being the clinic owner), all based on a handful of negative Google reviews that the client read after being dissatisfied with their experience at my clinic. By the time we caught wind of the video, it had thousands of views and already had comments calling for violence against my clinic and eventually against me directly. Those leading the cyberbullying attack started a funding site to gather donations to help “shut [EVH] down.” Our phone lines were clogged by vulgar phone calls, text messages, and emails. They flooded my Google page with THOUSANDS of false reviews. THOUSANDS! We went from the highest-ranked ER in our state-based off on authentic reviews to one of the lowest-ranked. I was horrified and felt demoralized and defeated. Before I could even catch my breath, my family and I had to flee town due to the threats of violence and someone doxing my home address and contact information. It was a dark, dark place to be.
At the height of the storm, this client *almost* made me question if this was the right field for me. This client *almost* made me question my purpose in life, *almost* made me walk away from everything I have worked my entire life towards, and *almost* made me give up on my dream. *Almost*
Then I remembered how resilient we are as Veterinarians and how grateful and blessed I am that my passion, purpose, and vocation meet as one. How astounding our profession is that we get to care for so many amazing species, sometimes multiple on the same day! We get to share in the joys and the sorrows of our clients. We get to help our patients through some really tough things and see them flourish due to our perseverance and compassion. And when their body doesn’t want to fight anymore, we give them a respectful and proper goodbye. And we are all the better for it!
Too often, we forget those things during the height of “the storm.” The waves are crashing down on our boat, and we fear we may sink under the weight. But if we can steer towards the light on the horizon, I promise it will be okay!
I pray that no one experiences an attack like this. Still, sadly, statistics also show that cyberbullying has had a significant impact on the mental health of the veterinary profession as a whole. Most recommendations during an event like this are to “sit and wait for the storm to blow over,” but this route did not align with my beliefs. I could not just sit there and watch someone do this to everything I had worked my entire life for, and everything my team had worked so hard to accomplish. After multiple attempts to handle this situation outside of the court system, including offering mediation so we could discuss the client’s experience and address any concerns, we ultimately had to go through the court system. We filed a defamation lawsuit, and the court agreed with us, granting a permanent injunction stating that the client needed to remove the videos with defamatory comments/statements, post a retraction video/statement (click here to watch it now), and not make false comments about EVH or me again.
Although we are grateful to have our name cleared in such a manner, it doesn’t feel like justice enough for my team who endured the vulgar phone calls nor for the countless pets whose owners could not get through on clogged phone lines, and certainly not for my children who remain traumatized to this day from the threats of violence against their mom. Instead, we will use this experience to fortify our boat, raise our sails, and carry on with our mission of having a positive impact on our patients, clients, colleagues, and our community. The same way we have for the past nine years. To those who sent us words of encouragement, food, gift baskets, and posted such endearing comments about our team on social media… saying thank you hardly seems enough. It is because of you that our team continued on. Thank you for being the wind at our backs, pushing us onward even in the midst of the storm.
– Lindsay Ruland, DVM
CEO, Chief of Medicine
You can help.
Our story is not an uncommon story in veterinary medicine, and we’re lucky that there are organizations out there to support veterinary professionals in times of need. If you’d like to help, please consider donating to a cause like Not One More Vet or the Veterinary Hope Foundation. Not One More Vet addresses wellbeing in veterinary medicine through multiple innovative pathways including the world’s largest veterinary peer-to-peer support group, an educational program providing leadership focused on wellness; a support grant program providing immediate financial support; an online crisis support system specifically designed for veterinary professionals; and research to further the advancement of wellness, mental health, and the reduction of suicide in veterinary professionals. The Veterinary Hope Foundation is a non-profit focused on confronting the alarming rate of suicides in the animal care community by providing support to veterinarians in crisis. If you’re interested in donating, please click an icon below.
Below is a retraction video and accompanying statement:
The retraction statement:
The videos I created got more attention than I ever expected them to. I admit that I got caught up in the emotions of the situation (much like you all did) and made a comment that I saw as dark humor, but that incited others to make threats of violence against EVH and Dr Ruland, and this was wrong to do. The terror that Dr Ruland and her young children experienced in the days following as she received threatening phone calls to her home phone, was not something I intended to happen and I want to apologize to Dr Ruland and her family for causing such distress. I do not wish that fear on anyone.
After learning more about that day I now understand some of the circumstances as to why I could not get through on the phone lines – there were so many critical patients in the treatment area (the room I reference as the “back room” in my videos) that the team needed to tend to those sick animals and could not immediately get to the phones. And, although Darwin seemed critical to me, it is only natural for us to be worried about our fur babies in emergency situations. The medical team felt he was more stable than the patients in their treatment area and without me being in the room with them or having the medical training they do, I should not have made accusations and judgements about what went on.
Ultimately I was upset with an interaction I had with one of the veterinary assistants, someone who hadn’t been working on Darwin’s case and got thrown into answering our questions when she came outside to retrieve another patient. Under normal circumstances I would have spoken with the management team and waited to hear back from them to discuss the interaction. But emotions were high and I made the decision to take to social media instead.
As my videos was viewed more and more people began posting negative reviews on Google and other social media sites. I want to ask everyone who wrote a false Google review, Yelp review, contacted the BBB, or wrote a Facebook review to please remove it. We were all understandably upset by hearing that animals could be getting hurt, but as more information has been learned it has become apparent that we may not have all of the information about those situations. Dr Ruland and the entire EVH Team have worked hard to earn their 4.4 star Google
rating. They achieved that through authentic reviews, not ones incited by a video on social media.
I want to apologize to every employee at EVH for the onslaught of vulgar phone calls, text messages, emails, social media messages, and threats they received in relation to my videos. Although I have questions about some of the cases in their Google reviews, ultimately a review is an opinion of a person’s experience and it is not my place to accuse Dr Ruland and her team of being murderers based off of those reviews.
I want to apologize to the clients whose pets might not have been able to receive care due to the phone lines being clogged by the harassing phone calls. And I want to apologize to the clients whose pets were at EVH and they could not get through to the medical team due to the phone lines being clogged. Interfering with the medical care of an animal was never my intent when I made the videos. My intent was the exact opposite: to protect animals. For those who continue to call EVH and harass them I am asking you to please stop.
Lastly, I want to apologize to Dr Ruland directly. Being upset about the tone of an employee’s voice or perhaps the wording used did NOT warrant me accusing you of being a murderer nor inflicting the huge financial and emotional burden that I caused. I have never met you personally, but my anger was further fueled by the inaccurate information I received. So, Dr. Ruland, I am very sorry for the pain I have caused you and your family and your employees throughout this ordeal.
We’ll be here when you need us most.
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Ann Arbor, MI 48103
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