Journey for Justice
Her AKC registered name was Holyrood's Remember Me, but Hannah, a daughter of my Ch. Bonnie Brier James Butler, CD TD, was the sweetest girl. It took that many years to follow the proper channels for justice to be served. She died because of Dr. Stephen Tobin, a veterinarian in Meriden, Connecticut. I am sharing the outcome of Hannah's story in the hopes that it gives courage and knowledge to others that they, too, can seek justice if misconduct, negligence or incompetence from a veterinarian that resulted in an animal's pain and suffering or death is suspected. You have a voice. Your cherished companions have a voice in YOU.
August 13, 2003, nearly two full years after I started my journey for justice for Hannah, I received the State of Connecticut, Connecticut Board of Veterinary Medicine's Memorandum of Decision (Stephen Tobin, D.V.M. / Petition No. 2001-0919-047-027). The public has access to this information. [Comments in brackets are mine]
6. On or about June 5, 2001, sometime after 8:30 a.m., Tobin performed surgery and provided post-surgical treatment to Hannah.
7. The surgery lasted for two hours; Tobin removed a mass about the size of a tennis ball, and performed the spaying. However, Tobin failed to secure the uterine stump with the necessary two ligatures. The only ligature that was used became loose shortly after the surgery. Hannah lost a significant amount of blood through the uterine stump and the pedicle that was left after the mass was removed.
12. Because Hannah weighed 18 lbs. and she lost a significant amount of blood during the surgery, 200 milliliters of fluid administered subcutaneously was insufficient to compensate for Hannah's hypovolemic condition. [In Small Claims Court, Tobin said to the judge it was not proven she was in hypovolemic shock]
13. Tobin failed to conduct tests to diagnose blood lost and abdominal bleeding.
14. The anesthetic that Tobin provided to Hannah for the surgery was 0.5 milliliters of Ace-Ketaset. Such anesthetic is inadequate for visceral pain. [This means to me Hannah suffered with great pain]
15. Tobin failed to transfer Hannah to a critical care facility when she looked pale, weak and tired from the surgery and experienced significant amount of blood loss.
16. Tobin exercised poor judgment and failed to monitor Hannah when he released Hannah [I was told three times, when I called at 3 p.m. that day, that Hannah was fine!]
1. Tobin shall pay a civil penalty of $1,000 to the Treasurer, State of Connecticut.
2. Tobin's license shall be placed on probation for a period of two years under the following terms and conditions: a. Tobin shall not perform any anesthesia and surgery until such time as the Board finds (1) there are no deficiencies in Tobin's ability to perform anesthesia and surgery, and (2) Tobin has successfully completed the retraining set forth in 2b below. b. Within the first year of the probationary period, respondent shall attend and successfully complete a course in anesthesia and surgery, pre-approved by the Board. Within 90 days of the completion of such coursework, Tobin shall provide the Board with proof, to the Board's satisfaction, of the successful completion of such courses. c. Tobin shall not perform anesthesia and surgery until he ahs provided proof to the satisfaction of the Board o completion of such coursework required in paragraph 2b above.
3. After completing the retraining and coursework in paragraph 2 above, Tobin shall have a Connecticut licensed veterinarian approved by the Board ("the evaluator") present for the first two surgical procedures that include anesthesia and monitoring that respondent performs. After observing such procedures, the evaluator shall, within 90 days, report in writing to the Board or a quorum of the Board, that he or she has personally observed tow such procedures, and that such procedures were performed with reasonable skill and safety. Thereafter, respondent may perform anesthesia and surgery without direct supervision. If the evaluator reports that such procedures were not performed with reasonable skill and safety, respondent shall be permanently prohibited from using anesthesia and performing surgery.
This is a bittersweet victory. I would have been happy if this man lost his license forever. There is no excuse in my mind for someone who professes to be a trained professional to subject an innocent animal to such inhumane treatment. However, Tobin's peers have made it clear that he was responsible for Hannah's death. Incredibly, through the two years, Tobin never admitted responsibility for his actions. He never showed me any remorse for causing the death of my Hannah. It disturbs me greatly that a man, who professed to follow the philosophies of holistic medicine, could, would do such a thing to an innocent being. While the Small Claims case I brought (basically to recoup out of pocket expenses that I incurred rushing Hannah to another veterinarian in the hopes of saving her life), was dismissed because I was not aware that I needed a veterinarian with me to prove my medical charges against Tobin (the small claims hearing was before the Veterinarian Board Memorandum of Decision), the smug and arrogant look on Tobin's face, while he walked past me that emotional day, will be imprinted in my memory forever.
While the most important decision by the Connecticut Veterinary Board, and subsequent victory won't bring Hannah back to me, it has taught me the hardest lesson of my life - one that came with a terrible price and shattered heart. I will never forget what suffering Hannah went through.. Our dogs have a voice . . . and its YOU and ME. If you suspect incompetence or negligence that resulted in pain and suffering or death of a loved companion, you can do something. You MUST do something!
Steps to Take
The first thing you must do, if your companion had died, is to immediately have an autopsy performed on your companion, by another veterinarian in another practice. If it is going to take a few hours to transport or for the other veterinarian to do this, the body should be keep chilled, not frozen. Hopefully, a general autopsy will determine the cause of death, as it did in Hannah's case. If not, authorize the veterinarian to take tissue samples; blood samples or anything else for laboratory analyzes that will help determine the cause of death. Be sure to ask the veterinarian where these samples will be sent. They should be sent to laboratories where there is a licensed and experienced pathologist. They should not be done in-house as the expertise of a pathologist is required and the average veterinarian hospital does not have the capabilities to do this extensive laboratory work. Be sure to get ALL copies of the veterinarian's autopsy report as well as all the reports from the pathologist.
Then, request copies of all medical records and reports from the accused veterinarian. That includes all blood work performed, original x-rays (if any) and all other diagnostics' reports as well as the hospital's record.
As soon as you are emotionally able to, you must have an interview as soon as possible with the veterinarian you are accusing. Emotions will be running high and it will do no good to go in screaming and yelling. You need to take notes, so always go with someone who can lend you emotional support, as well as listen and help take notes. If you don't know what questions to ask, it might be best to have a consultation with another veterinarian (not in the same practice), to help you review the case. The best person would be the veterinarian who performed the autopsy. Having your questions prepared in advance will be very beneficial so you have time to collect your thoughts. Let me be perfectly clear; you will have to educate yourself to the medical jargon and will need to understand what and how treatments, surgery, etc. were done on your companion in order to know the questions to ask.
For example, in Hannah's case, when Tobin said she lost a significant amount of blood, I asked him if he started an i.v. (intravenous fluids)? I.V. fluids, as well as possible blood transfusions or blood replacement supports is very critical for an animal that has significant blood loss. When Tobin said, no, I knew something was not right.
If after your interview, you feel there is strong evidence to go forward with filing a grievance, then you need to contact the body that oversees veterinarians in your state. In Connecticut, you contact the Dept. of Public Health, Practitioner Investigation Unit (860-509-7552). Request a petition to file a grievance. You will also be asked to sign consent for the release of your companion's medical records. Your petition will be reviewed and determined if an investigation is warranted or not. If they determine there is justification to go further with an investigation, then the waiting begins.
In the meantime, you can also consider filing a lawsuit if you feel the facts are overwhelming. Sometimes, the insurance company carrying the malpractice insurance for the veterinarian will settle out of court if the case is strong. Otherwise, contact the Animal Legal Defense Fundand they will refer you to an attorney in your area that has expressed an interest in animal cases. You will need to discuss the merits of the case with the attorney. Please understand that while we feel our companions are priceless, unfortunately, in the eyes of the law in most states, our cherished companions are considered nothing more than personal property - like a piece of furniture. The judgment, even in successful cases, may not even be enough to cover your legal costs. For many of us, it's the principal of the matter, and not the settlement. If you have incurred other expenses, as I did when I had to rush Hannah to another veterinarian in the hopes of saving her life, just recouping these out-of-pocket expenses might be better obtained by suing in Small Claims Court.
Small Claims Court - You Have to Prove Your Case!
Make no mistake, the victim or in this case, the victim's guardian has to prove the case. To sue in Small Claims Court, contact the Town Clerk in your town and ask how you go about filing. The fee is around $35.00. Filing isn't that difficult but when you get your day in court, let me be perfectly clear. You don't necessarily need an attorney in Small Claims Court, but you WILL need the expert testimony of a licensed veterinarian to be on your team The burden of proof is on us. Expect any and all tactics from the accused. In my case, Tobin never took accountability for anything, and even tried to blame me for Hannah's death because I performed CPR on her, after she started bleeding out from her incision as we rushed her to another veterinarian.
If the Department of Public Health concludes it's investigation by filing charges against the accused veterinarian, you will have your day in front of the veterinarian board. This is a very emotional time, but the most important event you will have in the process. Microphones are on to record every word. The assigned attorney from the legal department will have met with you a number of times prior to your testimony. Be prepared to face the accused. In my case, it was the first time I had seen Tobin since my interview with him after Hannah's death. I can't even explain to you how I felt, except to say it was not pleasant. I asked friends and family to be present in the room to give me emotional support. This showing of support is very helpful; don't go it alone.
The accused will have his or her attorney, and the attorney you have seen actually represents your companion. After your testimony, you have the option to leave the room or sit in the back and listen to the rest of the testimony. I recommend you stay and take notes. In Hannah's case, I caught Tobin lying during his testimony and gave this information to Hannah's attorney to use. Again, it will be very emotional, but hang in there.
Once the hearing has concluded, do NOT make any comments to the accused. I wanted to choke the life out of this man, that was only natural for all the grief and pain both Hannah, and I endured. Take the high road, for the dignity of your companion, and yourself.
Wait, wait, wait. This is what I did for almost a year. I was told the Veterinary Board only meets a few times a year. Plus, the whole hearing had to be transcribed and then the outcome or ruling has to be very clear and legal. The wheels of justice are slow? That's an understatement. You can check with your companion's attorney every few months, just to give you something to do. They will contact you if they hear anything. Eventually, you will get a report of the outcome from the state. Hopefully, it will be favorable and bring some closure to your journey. More importantly, as in Hannah's case, it sent a message and this is why I am determined to continue to get the message out that if a veterinarian screws up, he or she should stand up and take responsibility. That is not asking for much. I probably would have thought differently about Tobin if he showed me sincere remorse for his actions, admitted to what he did and reimbursed me for the additional money it cost. That would have been the honorable thing to do. I wanted nothing more, nothing less. Instead, his arrogance left me no choice. I never collected a cent, which wasn't the important thing anyway. I did succeed in having Hannah's voice heard and that was the important thing all along. Our companions are not just things or throw away commodities, although we sadly live in a society where many people look at animals this way. They are sentient beings with a heart and a soul, a mind, body and emotions. They show happiness and they feel pain! They are God's creation, too. They deserve the respect from the veterinarians who we trust to take care of them. THAT, is not asking much, either!
I must believe that competent and compassionate veterinarians don't like the negative blemish incompetent veterinarians give their profession. Today, while I believe in and follow the philosophies of holistic medicine over allopathic medicine, nevertheless, I believe all veterinarians have the potential to do great good or great harm. We just need to seek out and develop a relationship with those who represent their profession and patients with great respect, skill and honest compassion. This is what teamwork is all about and this is what Hannah's and my message will also continue to be.
Don't forget, you have a voice. Your companions have a voice in YOU. They are counting on our courage. Their love, and your love for them will give you the strength and determination on your path for justice.