Animal Defenders of Westchester

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Animal Defenders of Westchester
P.O. Box 205
Yonkers, NY 10704


The vets from hell

State slow to act after animal horrors

Published in the NY Daily News, May 29, 2005:



City veterinarians have mistakenly put dogs to sleep, tried to spay cats brought in to be declawed and refused care to a dog whose owner couldn't pay, a Daily News investigation has found.

Pet doctors also have removed body organs without getting an owner's consent, missed life-threatening symptoms and allowed unqualified employees to insert microchips in cats and euthanize dogs.

State files obtained by The News are littered with tales of lousy pet care by vets across the city.

In most cases, vets pay a small fine and serve a period of probation and get their licenses back, even when they admit to contributing to a pet's death.

Animal advocates say the state Education Department, which regulates the industry, moves much too slowly to take action against veterinarians. The News found cases in which findings were issued up to four years after an incident.

"More than two years, in my opinion, fails to protect the public in a timely manner," Gary Kaskel, president of United Action for Animals, a 38-year-old anti-animal cruelty organization, wrote to Education Commissioner Richard Mills.

Some pet owners have turned to the courts to make the case against vets, but the process is not easy. Pets still are considered property and, in most cases, owners can recover only the cost of the animal.

A News review of public records revealed that more than a dozen pet owners have filed lawsuits or complaints to state regulators for deaths they attribute to malpractice.

The state says it moves as quickly as possible to discipline veterinarians, but it says pet doctors are entitled to hearings that can lengthen the process.

A bill pending in the state Legislature, sponsored by Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Queens), would allow pet owners to collect for loss of companionship and pain and suffering following the wrongful death of their animals.

Attorneys like Beth Seligman, who represents Marvel, are trying to convince courts that pets are irreplaceable, four-legged members of a family.

"People compare it to the loss of a child," Seligman said. "They are really psychologically affected. It can be really devastating."

Eight sad cases

Three boxer puppies, only days old, died in November 2003 after they were scorched by a heating pad that was turned up too high at the Animal Hospital of Staten Island, their owner claims. One died at the hospital and two others later died.

Owner John Marchisotto said last week that he complained to state officials about the hospital's actions but that no findings had been issued.

Staten Island vet Jeffrey Garretson paid a $1,000 fine last year and was put on probation for a year after he allowed an unlicensed employee to insert a microchip into a cat.

Valley Stream, L.I., vet Jason Heller doubled as a drug dealer, selling the animal tranquilizer ketamine, a favorite among young clubgoers looking to get high from "Special K," according to state records. Heller's license was suspended for nine months in 2003. He is currently licensed.

Queens vet Tobias Jungreis, the author of self-help books like "How To Be a Great Husband," has twice been disciplined by the state during the past nine years.

In 2002, he was suspended for one month, had to pay a $2,500 fine and was put on probation after admitting he failed to adequately treat four animals.

Also, Jungreis admitted in 1996 that he had failed to adequately treat and diagnose two cats, including failing to find a string under a cat's tongue that had passed down its gastrointestinal tract.

Brooklyn vet Martin Kopel didn't bother to X-ray a cat whose owner brought him in because he was limping and had diarrhea, according to state records. It turned out the cat had bone cancer. Kopel was put on probation in 2003 and fined $1,500 after admitting he misdiagnosed two animals in his care.

Vet George Vincent refused to treat a 2-year-old pit bull whose owners brought him to Animal Medicine and Surgery in Canarsie, Brooklyn, bleeding from the mouth and leg.

Vincent cleaned the dog's wounds and sedated him, but failed to tell the owners about the dangers of a mouth wound after learning that they couldn't pay, according to state records.

The owners told the clinic that the dog bled to death a few days later, according to Dr. Ronald Chaikin, who has run the animal hospital since 1978.

Vincent was suspended for two months last year and has retired, according to Chaikin.

It wasn't the first time Chaikin's clinic got in trouble. In 2002, he paid a $10,000 fine after admitting he altered records and allowed unlicensed employees to administer vaccinations and euthanize animals.

Chaikin says that at the time he was unaware of a law that prohibits anyone but a veterinarian from euthanizing animals.

Veterinary technician Samantha McCarthy of Richmond Hill, Queens, was collared on criminal charges of torturing and injuring animals after three dogs she took home died from a lack of food and water.

She was suspended for six months in April 2003 and put on probation for two years. She remains licensed.

30G transplant for naught

Andy Marvel spent $30,000 for a kidney transplant to save the life of his 4-year-old Siamese cat, Nikko, only to watch him die weeks later when, his lawsuit claims, doctors at Manhattan's Animal Medical Center poisoned him with an overdose of a postoperative drug.

"I don't think the hospital should be able to get away with this," Marvel said. "I care for all of my cats as if they were my children."

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