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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 27 September 2001 Issue


Renowned O.C. Animal Hospital Prosecuted Courts: State says one vet was a phony, two were asked to inflate credentials and files were falsified.


State prosecutors are trying to pull the license of a nationally renowned veterinary hospital in Fountain Valley, accusing its director of allowing a former heavy-equipment operator to pose for years as a surgeon and perform numerous operations on pets.

The California attorney general's office alleges in a civil complaint that All-Care Animal Referral Center and its chief veterinarian, Dr. Robert L. Rooks, also falsified medical records and asked two veterinarians to embellish their credentials.

The allegations by the consumer affairs division follow a series of complaints and civil lawsuits initiated by pet owners who have criticized the hospital's care. One case involved a 10-year-old Akita, Honey Bear, whose surgical history was allegedly altered for fear of litigation, according to prosecutors. Rooks and the hospital strongly denied any wrongdoing Thursday, suggesting in a written statement that the accusations were fueled by two disgruntled ex-employees and a number of pet owners who were anguished over the deaths of their animals.

"Despite the best efforts of Dr. Rooks and the All-Care staff, sadly, we cannot save all of the very sick pets we see each day," the statement read. "While we understand the hurt and frustration our clients endure when we cannot save their pets, it is unfortunate that some of these people choose to express that pain by attacking us."

The California Veterinary Medical Board will decide in the coming months whether to revoke Rooks' medical license and pull the facility's operating permit. The panel also could impose fines totaling up to $35,000 if it concludes that the hospital violated state government codes, according to the attorney general's office.

Billed as one of the biggest and most technologically advanced veterinary hospitals in the nation, _________________________________________ gets referrals from across the United States. It performs such exotic procedures as brain surgery on Dobermans and hysterectomies on tortoises.

With equipment purchased from human hospitals, pets can receive chemotherapy and radiotherapy. They recuperate in hydrotherapy whirlpools and get their insides mapped with computerized-tomography scans and magnetic resonance imaging.

The hospital remains open and treats some 30,000 pets a year, but the employee at the center of the case left in 1998.

The attorney general's allegations were filed last week with the state Office of Administrative Hearing and accused the hospital of numerous violations of medical codes. However, none directly linked the allegations to deaths of specific animals in the hospital's care.

The accusations will be heard by an administrative law judge, and any findings would be referred to the Veterinary Medical Board for action.

Prosecutors allege that the unnamed former heavy-equipment operator was hired by the hospital in 1995, even though he never held a state license as a veterinarian or registered veterinary technician.

Despite his lack of credentials, the employee performed a variety surgical procedures over the next three years, such as administering anesthesia, making incisions, suturing wounds and closing wounds with staples, prosecutors said. One of these procedures was even videotaped by a veterinary magazine, according to court papers.

During his last year at the hospital, in 1998, the man was allegedly promoted to "director of surgery."

Rooks and the hospital also attempted to deceive pet owners by referring to two hospital veterinarians respectively as an "internist" and a "neurologist," even though neither was board certified in those specialties, prosecutors said. Although the veterinarians complained to Rooks about his use of the labels, Rooks allegedly told them that it was important for pet owners to feel that their animals were getting the best care, according to the attorney general's office.

The accusation indicated that authorities have investigated the hospital for nearly three years. Pet owners say the probe resulted from their complaints that their animals received inadequate care at the facility.

Joanna Patrice, whose cat Rusty died in 1997 after surgery at the hospital, said she is gratified that the medical board is reviewing the hospital.

Patrice filed a complaint to the board, as well as a lawsuit, after her cat's death. That complaint was not sustained, and the lawsuit was settled for what Patrice described as a small sum.

"Everyone says this is the No. 1 hospital, but they've been doing all these egregious things," she said.

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