Suki's Safe Haven is exactly what it sounds like - a safe place for victims of veterinary incompetence, negligence, and abuse to obtain information about this disturbing but important subject. It's a companion site to The Veterinary Abuse Network, which grew out of a site founded in 2000 in memory of Suki the Cat, REPEATEDLY MISTREATED BY EDWARD J NICHOLS DVM, CRESTWAY ANIMAL CLINIC, San Antonio, and to alert the public of serious flaws in state board systems that routinely look the other way to protect the vets - and not our pets. You'll find original posts and articles as well as links to victims' stories, resources, other sites and blogs, and media coverage from all over the net. We'll also cover First Amendment issues for those of us who have been sued by the very veterinarians who mistreated our pets and then used the legal system in an attempt to silence us.

We will never forget. We will never be silenced.

This is an independent consumer advocacy blog and not associated with any government agency in any way.

March 30, 2014

Reporting a Vet and Filing a Board Complaint Against a Veterinarian: Why Do It?

It's easier than ever to report a vet -
many veterinary board sites have
forms to download and file electronically, or
mail the old-fashioned way.
UPDATE: Keep reading for news about disciplinary action taken against Martin E. Garcia, DVM, the unconscionable Texas board vet who looked the other way in Suki's case and let Ed Nichols of Crestway Animal Clinic walk even with proof of numerous incidents of negligence and incompetence. In 2011, the Texas board got Martin E. Garcia himself for "multiple years" of violations in controlled substance recordkeeping, including ordering 12 vials of Ketaset without establishing a veterinarian/client/patient relationship! 

People often ask me, “Why should I file a complaint against a veterinarian? Nothing will be done anyway. Look what happened to you and Suki.”

I can't argue. When I filed a detailed, fact-filled and documented complaint against Crestway Animal Clinic and Edward J. Nichols DVM, despite every piece of evidence of repeated and prolonged mistreatment – the jerk walked away scot-free. (You can read the timeline here at Crestway Animal Clinic – Who Did This to Suki and click on details and documentation from there.) Nichols was exonerated by one single board vet at a low level, off the record "meeting" - not an actual state board hearing. Your state may have an equally shoddy system. Here, nobody could explain the insane "exoneration" of a vet who had committed repeated and provable violations of the standard of care as later stated by expert vet opinions including a board certified anesthesiologist from Texas A&M.

So why should you file a complaint against a vet? It's true that the veterinary board systems are deeply and dangerously flawed. They routinely dismiss most complaints, some without even bothering to investigate anything. And even if you're lucky enough to get the vet held accountable, the disciplinary action is often puny and insulting: a small fine, some continuing education hours, possibly a suspension which will most likely be “stayed” (meaning it's on paper only – the vet can continue practicing during the suspension). If the vet is found to be practicing under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or is otherwise impaired by substance abuse, he or she is shuffled into a “peer assistance program” where “counseling” is provided by – wait for it – other vets.

Then there's the fear – of taking on rich, powerful, connected “professionals” who can and will use every available resource to try to crush, break, bankrupt, or destroy you; of the toll it will take on your life, work, finances, health, and sense of security; of what others will say when they find out you're going to all this trouble over “just an animal.” And the worst of all: having to relive the horror of a beloved pet's death as you attempt to get it all down on paper, knowing exactly what happened. And knowing without a doubt that the vet does too – and will lie and lie and lie. 

So why do it? Why bother? Here are my top five reasons why reporting a veterinarian is the best thing you can do – for yourself, your precious companion, your own peace of mind, and for all the lucky people and animals you might be saving from a vet from hell.
Why file a complaint against a veterinarian? 

1. Because this vet may have a history of complaints that you know nothing about, and your complaint could be the one that makes the difference. If you live in a state where dismissed complaints are sealed and the public never finds out about them, there could be multiple complaints against a vet who has the illusion of a clean record at the board but in reality has a history of problems that the board can legally keep hidden from the public. Certain other states allow the public to know which vets have been filed on, but most of them don't. By reporting a veterinarian in one of those “secretive” states, the investigators will see the same name popping up; by reporting a veterinarian in one of the “transparent” states, you add to the public's knowledge that this vet could be a problem. Either way, investigators know who the problem vets are, and if enough people come forward (sometime only two or three are "enough") they might pay more attention, especially if a vet previously walked free on a case he or she shouldn't have. That complaint just might be yours. 

2. Because filing a complaint forces the vet to put his or her “version” in writing, and nothing makes bad vets crazier than being forced to explain why they did what they did. It would be impossible to overstate how much bad vets hate having to answer to anybody, especially the ones who have elevated their phony “nice guy” image to an art form. So imagine Dr. Wonderful getting “served” with a copy of your complaint that cites chapter and verse of exactly who, what, when, where, why and how he did what he did to your companion animal. He is going to have to sit his sorry butt down and start creating his response in writing, which is a little trickier than just flapping their yaps -- changing versions, dates, times, and places and hoping that nobody notices.  

A good board investigator is fairly competent at recognizing sneaky tactics, because bad vets usually default to the usual blame-shifting, it's-not-my-fault, the client “misunderstood” or is unstable/lying/crazy, the pet was too old/too young/too fat/too thin, the tech/staffer/butler-did-it, and other diversionary tactics that serve as a glowing neon hallmark of lying vets. You just have to hope you get an investigator who gives a damn. Not all of them do, and some are hamstrung by bullying from their state Veterinary Medical Association and their lawyers, who basically use the vet board as their personal sock puppet to protect their members no matter how many animal lives are destroyed. 

Nevertheless, it takes a lot of time and energy for a vet to make up all the garbage he needs to in order to weasel out of a legitimate complaint. So even if your complaint does nothing but give your vet heartburn and some sleepless nights for a few weeks while he runs around like a deranged flea, coming in after hours to destroy, alter, or remove records; get his lies straight and then "visit" with his staff in order to get all of their lies straight; enlist especially unethical staff to help him cover up; start making phone calls all over town to see which other lying vets can help him cover his rear end, all of that has a pretty good chance of making his already pathetic life even more miserable. 

Remember – these vets already know what they did; they just don't want anyone else to know. Surprise bad vets with a board complaint that they know is true, and watch Dr. Jekyll turn into Mr. Hyde when they realize there is no way to avoid what's to come. Not all the panic, fear, rage, threats, screaming, "calling the authorities" (a tried-and-true tactic for turning themselves into the "real" victims), pouting, and money in the world will get them out of having to put their lies in writing for the investigators to see. Thanks to you.

Be sure and check your state's policy to find out whether you will be permitted to see the vet's response to the complaint. We couldn't here in Texas -- not until citizen advocate Greg Munson of the Texas Vet Board Watch made it happen after 18 months of wrangling with the Texas Attorney General's office. Now the vet's response is automatically sent to the complainant. Change CAN happen! [UPDATE 2018--Unfortunately, this important victory for consumers and their pets was reversed, thanks to efforts by Texas Veterinary Medical Association lawyers who are always on the lookout for anything that makes the complaint process the least bit fair for consumers. Complainants no longer see the written response by the vet, leaving victims in the dark as to how the vet defended the harm or death caused to their companions, and giving every advantage to a vet who continues to lie and deceive everyone in a system that is supposed to be protecting us--not them.]

3. Because even if the complaint is dismissed, you still have a story about bad vets and the systems that protect them. To me and later to expert vets who put in writing how much wrong Nichols had done, there was no question that Edward J. Nichols, DVM, Crestway Animal Clinic had violated numerous statutes of the Texas Veterinary Practice Act. I had all the goods on him and then some. Guess what? His friendly colleague sitting across the table from him, Martin E. Garcia, DVM of Raymondville, Texas, disagreed. Nichols hadn't done anything wrong, because Suki was “an old cat.” Nothing more.

Just her age was enough to doom Suki to unspeakable, repeated, and prolonged mistreatment at the hands of Ed Nichols, culminating with putting her, collapsed and immobile, in an induction box and gassing her with halothane and nitrous oxide to perform unauthorized surgery as she lay "v. dehydrated" in “multiple organ shutdown” (his writing) with no IV fluids, presurgical lab work, or consent from me, the owner. It was all there, total proof of what this monster had done, and board secretary Martin E. Garcia deliberately looked the other way and let Nichols walk. 

Somehow, Suki and I ended up with the two biggest sleazebags in the state of Texas protecting each other, with a completely impotent "enforcement committee" forced to watch this travesty and do nothing. I found out things after that conference that made my blood boil, but it convinced me that there was a story here -- a sickening, disgusting, and purely evil story that potentially put the lives of every pet in Texas in danger of ending up with a loose cannon like Ed Nichols and others like him who could literally do whatever they wanted to anybody's pet with absolutely no consequences. 

Care to guess what the new story became? It wasn't just about Suki anymore. It was about the flawed and potentially dangerous Texas vet board system itself, using Edward J. Nichols of Crestway Animal Clinic as the poster child for their incompetence, apathy, and questionable “behind closed doors” procedures, with the help of Martin E. Garcia DVM giving his pal a free pass despite absolute proof of repeated statute violations. In some ways it was an even better story: How could the pet-owning public of Texas trust a vet board system that protected the worst of the worst, the dumbest of the dumb, a horror show to end all horror shows? How could a vet who did all of these things to Suki (not to mention having the crappiest records you've ever seen) just waltz out the door while his filthy board friend smiled and closed the books on it? That was the story, and it still is to this day. 

By filing a complaint, even if it's dismissed, you too will have a story you can tell to the end of your days. You'll have the same opportunity to warn the public that what happened to you can happen to them. Think of how much good you can do if you go beyond just “your” story and translate it to help protect others from a similar tragedy, and a similar monster. Suki's Story will live forever and her story and others were told on several media outlets – so can yours.

4. Because – and this is the best reason of all – you may be helping to save lives. How would you feel if your pet was killed by a vet only to find out a horrific history of that vet (say, for example, at his previous place of employment) where internal problems and dead pets abounded, rumors of theft of client contact lists or actual equipment and supplies, but nobody did anything because he was “popular” with clients and he was a masterful liar? What if nobody bothered to report him or turn him into either the board, the police, the DEA, or anybody – too scared, helpless, or apathetic to do anything. 

Employers routinely protect renegade vets until they can no longer do so due to such egregious violence against pets that they have to cut them loose – only to send them off to their next job (or worse, off to buy their own clinics where they can abuse in protected privacy) with the public never knowing about the trail of bodies left behind (some vets even leave their previous place of employment off of their resumes entirely so nobody would ever suspect they worked anywhere else). 

Can you really live with yourself knowing that a vet has a pattern of malpractice that he or she can and will easily repeat on others if you keep silent? By filing a complaint, you are helping to bring about an abuser's worst nightmare – somebody somewhere knows something about them that they want kept secret. Bad vets have to live with the knowledge that enough people will eventually find out the truth about their background in any number of areas (e.g., schooling, military record, civil or criminal charges or lawsuits, arrests, domestic violence, malpractice/assaults/thefts at previous jobs, etc.) to finally expose them once and for all. 

5. Because the truth is the truth. No matter how overwhelming it can be to file a complaint, your priority should be to come forward with the truth of what happened to your pet. It might empower others to come forward, ex- and even present employees to come clean about the abuse, and as more people go public with similar experiences, there will eventually be no place for a bad vet to hide. There is one thing that no vet can touch no matter how much they flap their gums or rage on the Internet about how "unfair" it is  – the TRUTH. 

By filing a complaint with your state board, that truth is recorded forever. You know it's there, and so does the vet. By filing a complaint, you not only help to speed up that process and save lives, you ultimately have the satisfaction of watching bad vets spend the rest of their lives having to lie, cheat, and hide the truth of what they really are. I believe that filing a complaint and reporting a vet for wrongdoing is always the right thing. In fact, I think it's one of the best things you will ever do in your life, no matter what the outcome.

Ultimately of course, the decision to file is entirely yours. Speaking for myself, even though my complaint was dismissed, I'm glad I filed, glad I put that vile creep Ed Nichols of Crestway Animal Clinic in the hot seat in Austin, forcing him to tell lie after lie about "saving" Suki when his records prove exactly what he had done, when, where, why and how. 

Watching him twist in the wind while being questioned, witnessing him posing and preening and bragging, slandering me, blaming his mother, his staff, and Suki herself for his own despicable actions, telling his endless and convoluted lies to a committee who knew he was lying but had no power to touch him, was worth it. I often think of his lame attempts at dodging the attorney general counsel's questions with some nonsense or other, never passing up an opportunity to inform the committee of his own wonderfulness while carefully avoiding any real details of Suki's "treatment," except to say that it wasn't really anesthesia because he only gave her "a little bit of it" and it "wasn't really surgery" (even though it says "SX" on his chart) and other similar ramblings. 

It was devastating beyond belief to watch "Dr." Martin E. Garcia completely ignore the facts and proof of the medical suffering Suki had endured, but nothing can or will ever change the truth of what Edward J. Nichols of Crestway Animal Clinic did to Suki. 

And he knows it. He wouldn't have spent a small fortune coming after me with bottom-feeding lawyers to try to take away my First Amendment rights if he didn't. Ed Nichols failed in every way there was to fail, and I take every opportunity to tell Suki's Story so that no matter how many lies he tells for the rest of his useless life, the FACTS and PROOF of what he did to her will stand as testimony to his vileness. In fact, I used Suki's Story in my testimony to the Sunset Commission in Austin in 2004, helping to get changes made to the laws so that never again a worthless, ignorant "doctor" like Martin Garcia could singularly protect an equally worthless, ignorant "doctor" like Ed Nichols of Crestway Animal Clinic. 

UPDATE: As a wonderful aside, the board ended up finding Martin E. Garcia in violation of controlled substance recordkeeping over "multiple years" and ordering 12 vials of Ketaset without establishing a veterinary/client/patient relationshipRead about Martin E. Garcia, DVM violations here in the official TBVME Agreed Order dated June 28, 2011.

So as you can see, there is often justice long after the fact, even if it's indirect and not as satisfying as one would hope. It's hard to keep going when so much corruption, apathy, and injustice color the proceedings, but the truth about these BadVets will always out, especially BadVets who thumb their noses at the law thinking the rules don't apply to them. 

I sincerely hope that you will take every legitimate opportunity to report a vet for wrongdoing, no matter how difficult it is. If it saves one life, then your pets did not die in vain. And you can tell their stories forever, keeping them alive not only in your hearts but in the hearts of people they've never met. 

Now that you're ready to file that complaint, here's a link below to the nuts and bolts of getting the process started. Most veterinary board web sites provide an easy way to download the complaint form, fill it out, and submit it electronically. Good luck, be patient, and never give up. You are not alone. 

UPDATE 2018--The links on the website (below) are out of date. Please Google the name of your state and "veterinary board" (no quotes) to find the veterinary licensing and regulatory board in your state. 
For help with Filing a Complaint Against a Vet, go to Veterinary Abuse Network: Filing a Complaint Against a Veterinarian in Your State