Long-term All-Care probe frustrates pet owners

Watchdog group asks for a restraining order against veterinary hospital as the investigation reaches its third year.

June 27, 2001

The Orange County Register

FOUNTAIN VALLEY Several pet owners have pleaded with the California Attorney General's Office to expedite its investigation of a popular local animal hospital, saying thousands of pets may be at risk.

The office is investigating several pet owners' claims that their animals died after treatment or underwent unnecessary surgery at All-Care Animal Referral Center on Amistad Street.

Frustrated pet owners said they've waited three years for resolution since filing complaints with the Veterinary Medical Board of California, which forwarded the case to the Attorney General's Office in March.

The pet owners criticized the lengthy investigation, saying they fear for the safety of about 30,000 pets the hospital treats each year. This month, residents sought the help of In Defense of Animals, a watchdog organization.

The group asked the state veterinary board to seek a temporary restraining order preventing All-Care from conducting business. The board's executive director would not comment on the group's request.

Hospital staff refute the allegations, saying they feel sorry for the pets' deaths but cannot save all their patients. Several residents have rallied to the center's defense, saying their pets received top-notch care from the 24-hour hospital.

But those who've lost their pets want answers.

"The board has had my case since January of 2000, and all of these animals are being treated in the meantime," said Joanna Patrice, who took her cat, Rusty, to the hospital in 1997 for a second opinion on a limping problem.

"I'm extremely frustrated because mine is not the only case," Patrice said. "Obviously they sent it to the Attorney General's Office because the veterinary board had sufficient evidence of wrongdoing."

Patrice said head veterinarian Robert L. Rooks told her the cat was in "terrible pain" and would become crippled if surgery wasn't performed. The diagnosis scared her, Patrice said, and she agreed to the surgery.

Rusty died of cardiac arrest four days after the surgery, and Patrice learned of a small pinhole in the cat's lung when she paid for a private necropsy. The former Orange County resident, who now lives in Studio City, filed a claim, alleging improper handling of anesthesia.

All-Care settled with Patrice for $1,500 because the cost of defending itself against the allegations would have been larger than the settlement demand, a hospital spokesman said.

Patrice then pursued the case with the veterinary medical board.

Tom Lazar, deputy attorney general, would not comment on the case. When serious allegations are confirmed, the veterinary medical board forwards complaints to the Attorney General's Office, according to board's Web site.

"I have no idea how long it's going to take," said Gina Bayless, a board spokeswoman. "When they feel they have sufficient evidence, the Attorney General's Office will take the next step, which would be filing a legal action."

Rooks was unavailable for comment, and hospital spokesman Timothy McElroy would only comment via e-mail.

"Any time anyone says anything even suggesting that any impropriety occurred at All-Care, it has a devastating impact on everyone working here," he wrote.

Several pet owners praised All-Care for saving their pets.

"There are thousands of animals that have enjoyed better lives or have had their lives saved by All-Care," said Carol Hay of Garden Grove, who took her German shepherd, Roxanne, to the hospital for hip surgery in 1998.

"There is no one there coercing or forcing us to do surgeries on our pets, Hay said. "We are adults, it is a choice we make and a risk we take for a loved one."