What Happened to Toonces at Kindness Animal Hospital? A Cautionary Tale for Pet Owners . . .
Dr. Marc Katz, DVM, of Kindness Animal Hospital in Wheaton, MD
Found in Violation of the Veterinary Practice Act by Maryland Vet Board
In the case of Toonces, the Board says:
"Dr. Katz permitted an individual, who is neither a veterinarian nor a registered veterinary technician, to provide veterinary care on an animal . . . . while that individual was not under the responsible direct supervision of a licensed and registered veterinarian, a violation of COMAR 15.14.01.17."
Board Suspends License (but stays suspension); Places Katz on Six Months Probation Effective 2/03/2006; Levies Civil Penalty
On June 28, 2004 Dr. Marc Katz of Kindness Animal Hospital in Wheaton, MD admitted to me that my beloved cat Toonces, who I left in their care, had apparently been given a massive insulin overdose by a "veterinary technician" at Kindness Animal Hospital who -- acting without medical supervision -- used the wrong syringe to give Toonces his insulin shot. According to hospital records and notes made by Dr. Katz himself, Toonces was found hypoglycemic, hypothermic, seizuring, and fighting for his very life.
Toonces was a normally functioning cat when I dropped him off at Kindness Animal Hospital for a medical board. The next time I was to see him -- two days later, he was severely brain damaged, having massive seizures, rigid and unresponsive. He was hospitalized for a month after that for intensive care -- which Kindness Animal Hospital's insurance company and owner Marc Katz paid for after having acknowledged that this had been the result of a massive overdose of insulin administered by someone they referred to as a "technician." (Toonces regular dose of insulin was 3 units, and they admitted that he had been given 30 units -- 10 times the correct amount).
Toonces was hospitalized for a month in an attempt to not only save his life but give him a shot at some kind of recovery from the massive brain damage that he had suffered. The neurologist and staff noted that he had suffered neuronal damage due to neuroglycopenia -- the brain being deprived of blood glucose -- due to the massive insulin overdose.
After a month, Toonces returned home, still exhibiting massive brain damage from which I hoped he could recover. It was only a month later still that I learned -- from a former employee of Kindness Animal Hospital -- that Toonces had been left that weekend NOT in the care of a veterinary "technician" as Dr. Katz had said, but rather in the care of his son, who was at best an unlicensed, unsupervised assistant with no formal veterinary training.
As it turns out -- and as he later admitted -- Dr. Katz had made his son a deal: he could live rent free in the basement of the hospital building in return for going upstairs and taking care of the animals.
When I learned this, with horror I realized that what had happened to Toonces was not simply a tragic mistake, but a completely foreseeable and preventable incident which occurred due to carelessness and wanton disregard for patient safety on the part of veterinarian and Kindness' Animal hospital owner, Marc Katz. Dr. Katz had left all the animals at the hospital that weekend in the care of his son -- including a medical boarder requiring care that should only have been performed by properly trained and licensed staff. Dr. Katz' son was NOT a licensed or certified veterinary technician - - and was permitted to give dangerous injections without supervision. Was this arrangement allowing Dr. Katz to save a few bucks at the expense of patient safety??? I believe so.
After I learned that Toonces had been left with Dr. Katz son, I went to speak with Dr. Katz to ask him some questions -- including questions about the training and identity of the individual who had given Toonces the admitted overdose. Within days of this meeting Dr. Katz wrote me a letter denying that the overdose -- to which he had admitted for 4 months, and which was well documented in the records as the cause of Toonces condition -- had ever actually occurred.
I believe that Kindness Animal Hospital was playing russian roulette with the lives of their patients. Unfortunately for Toonces, his life was in the crosshairs when the chamber was loaded. But it could have been anyone else's pet.
My dealings with Dr. Katz alarmed me and shook my faith in a profession that I had -- like most pet owners -- blindly trusted. As I poured over the records and then listened to statements made at the "informal" investigatory conference with the board, I came to believe that Dr. Katz had behaved negligently, carelessly, and finally -- and most importantly -- unethically and dishonestly in his handling of my pet and his dealings with me. I also believe that he behaved unethically and dishonestly in his dealings with other veterinarians and with the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners as events unfolded.
This experience, and the subsequent discussions I have had with grieving pet owners nationwide, has opened my eyes about a profession in which little or no penalty exists for the kind of gross malfeasance and negligence that can -- and does -- result in countless injuries and deaths.
This news comes as a shock to pet owners -- who perceive veterinarians to be honest, ethical, and animal loving. However, to assume that a veterinarian has your pets best interests at heart, or that a love of animals is the reason for their choice of profession is dangerously naiive. In fact, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the national association for veterinary professionals, asserts that veterinary patients are mere property. The following explanation of the AVMA's opposition to punitive damages in veterinary malpractice cases was printed on the Association's website:
"The AVMA recognizes and supports the legal concept of animals as property. Animals enjoy various protections and benefits under state and federal laws . . . that are not available to other kinds of property" (http://www.avma.org/advocacy/state/issue_papers/non-econo_damages.asp)
Well, lucky Fluffy! She's got more rights than your toaster oven -- what more could she want? Will you grieve if someone breaks your toaster oven? This attitude is unbefitting an individual who expects you to place the life of your beloved furry family member in his or her hands. The hypocrisy of this position was challenged by California Animal Law Attorney Robert Newman (quoted in The $50,000 Mutt, eastbayexpress.com, June 11, 2003), speaking to the veterinary community:
" . . . .if you mess up, and I want you to be held accountable, you answer me with, 'It's a piece of property.' And I would suggest to you that if you actually believe that you should hang a plaque in your front office that says, 'You are hereby notified that we subscribe to the belief that your animal is a piece of property and will be treated as such here,' we'll see how long you stay in business. You just won't."
Unfortunately, my shock, disappointment, and outrage are shared by growing numbers of veterinary victims nationwide.
If you believe that your pet has been subjected to substandard care, malpractice, negligence, or abuse at the hands of a vet, there are steps you can take. These include reporting the incident to the State Board (this costs you no money), considering a legal claim for veterinary malpractice (this will cost you lots of money), and other actions.
If you have not experienced such a heartbreaking tragedy, there are steps you can take to reduce the chance that you ever will. To learn how to reduce the chances that your pet will be harmed by substandard veterinary care, please click on the link, "Keeping Your Pet Safe" from our home page.