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Some pet owners fight poor treatment by vets

Oversight board tries to balance discipline and education

April 07, 2012|By Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun

"I think the consumer has significant weapons in their arsenal if they are unhappy with what their veterinarian has done," said board president Chris H. Runde, a general practitioner with a hospital in St. Mary's County.

The board can issue fines of up to $5,000 for a first offense, and up to $10,000 for subsequent offenses, in addition to suspending or revoking licenses. The maximum fine for second offenses was doubled about two years ago after the board lobbied the legislature, Runde said.

Among the cases of veterinarians whose licenses were suspended or revoked were:

•Nave S. Dhillon, whose license was suspended for two weeks in January 2011 for providing inadequate care to a cat, the state board said. The pet died a day after Dhillon, based in Prince George's County, released it. He was fined $5,000 and ordered to a year of probation and six hours of education in record-keeping. Dhillon, according to a consent agreement, denied liability in the matter but acknowledged that the board had enough evidence to find him in violation of state regulations. He did not return messages seeking comment for this article.

•Sarah E. Sedriks-Callaway, whose license was suspended in May 2011 for two weeks. She wrote pet prescriptions for Xanax, Ritalin and Oxycodone that were intended for use by owners while working at a practices in Woodstock and Severna Park, according to the board. She was fined $1,000, put on probation for 12 months and ordered to take 12 hours of classes in ethics and record-keeping. Sedriks-Callaway did not file a timely response to the board's order and waived her right to a hearing; she also did not return a message seeking comment.

•James D. Nolte, whose license was suspended twice in 2009 and again in August 2011. The most recent suspension for the Wicomico County vet stemmed from a violation of professional conduct, judgment and practice standards, failure to follow protocol for controlled substances, and inadequate record-keeping, the board said. In the 2009 cases, Nolte did not conduct diagnostic evaluations and failed to properly close the surgical incision in a dog's abdomen, among related violations. Discipline has included at least $4,000 in fines, continuing education and probation. In documents from the board, Nolte denied liability but signed consent agreements in the 2009 cases. A woman who answered the phone at his practice said Nolte declined to comment.

•Gary W. Dehne's license was revoked in May 2009, after he was paid $344 by Bernadette Aukward of Silver Spring for blood tests on her cat, Spirit, but never gave her the results. Aukward, 79, said she had to put Spirit down about a month after Dehne did the blood tests. Spirit was diabetic and wasn't getting any better, she said. The bills were piling up, and she couldn't afford to pay them.

"I think if I had been able to get better care, then I would have been all right," she said. Spirit had meant "just about everything" to her, Aukward said, adding, "She was such comfort to me, such comfort."

The retired lab technician said her niece found the black cat starving at a trailer park and brought the frightened animal to her to nurse her back to health.. "All I know is, I would put the food out at night, and she would come from somewhere and ... eat; I didn't see her for the first month," Aukward said.

The cat was about 7 years old when Aukward had her euthanized.

Aukward said her intention was never for Dehne, who practiced primarily in Chevy Chase and Bethesda, to be severely disciplined. She had been happy with his previous treatment of Spirit, but she said something had changed on his last visit, and she was concerned.

Aukward filed a complaint with the board in October 2007, and in May 2009, the board revoked his license after repeated attempts to reach him.

Dehne did not return messages left at a practice in Washington, D.C.

Recourse available

In disciplinary cases, the board's actions are guided by state law and weighed according to the severity of an incident, the vet's disciplinary history and consistency among cases. The board typically imposes only half of the assessed suspension and sometimes a portion of the financial penalty — withholding the rest during a probationary period. If the veterinarian violates the conditions of probation, the remainder of the penalty can be imposed.

For instance, Oweis was fined $9,000 but had to immediately pay only $1,500. When his suspension ends, Oweis, like any other vet who has not been current on registration for more than a year, must submit to a reinstatement process through the board.

Runde said that making only portions of a fine or suspension effective immediately is a strategic tool, designed to force the doctors to comply with the law. "That means there is something hung over his head," he said.

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