MOUNT PLEASANT - Pumpkin the kitten was in grave danger.
A veterinarian had mishandled Pumpkin's spaying and follow-up care. The
kitten's internal stitches were loosening, and her intestines were
Pumpkin's owner, Marcia Rosenberg, got another vet to save her kitten.
Then she filed a complaint with the S.C. Board of Veterinary Medical
Examiners. Under state law, the board investigates complaints against
veterinarians and can take disciplinary action.
Rosenberg thought it an easy case - the evidence was clear, and the
second veterinarian was willing to testify. Moreover, the first
veterinarian had a documented history of pets dying after mishandled
But with the Veterinary Board - its eight members are seven
veterinarians and one layman - things are rarely easy or clear.
"I compare the Vet Board with the Enrons of the world in their
lack of openness and unaccountability," said Rosenberg.
"Everyone up to President Bush is saying this lack of corporate
accountability has to stop, and I'm saying the Vet Board has to
Rosenberg found the board often keeps citizens in the dark, holding
secret hearings from which the public is excluded. The board also issues
secret reprimands to veterinarians that the public never learns about.
Only the most serious disciplinary orders are made public. And the board
can take up to a year to act, during which citizens wonder what the agency
That secrecy shocked Rosenberg, 54, who has had two dozen pets since
childhood, beginning with a French poodle named Jolie. She couldn't
imagine a government agency charged with protecting pets that moved so
To Rosenberg, pets and humans have a special, loving relationship.
"I was the kind of child who took milk out to the garage and gave
it to stray cats. I was always nursing birds with broken wings," said
The board's slowness, and its ultimate decision to give Pumpkin's
veterinarian what Rosenberg thought was a light penalty, changed her life.
Never an activist, she's now on an almost full-time crusade to open up
the workings of the S.C. Veterinary Board to the public and make it
tougher on incompetent vets.
In the process, she's accumulated boxes of data on veterinarians and
vet laws, and become a pet safety advocate. Since last year, she has made
a dozen trips to Columbia, attending Veterinary Board meetings and talking
with government officials to push for more openness. She makes the
four-hour round trip to Columbia with her husband, Marvin, a retired
corporate attorney, whom she praises for his support.
Lawmakers respect her.
"Marcia Rosenberg is the voice for all the folks across South
Carolina who feel they didn't receive a high level of care from their
vet," said Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston.
Rosenberg's got results. She has:
Persuaded the Veterinary Board to
post its public disciplinary actions on its Internet Web site;
Picked up support from state
lawmakers who will introduce a bill next session to open the Board's
Won respect from the governor's
office, including Rita McKinney, the cabinet official who oversees 39
state regulatory boards, including the Veterinary Board.
"I would hope that this and other agencies would always appreciate
someone like Marcia Rosenberg," said McKinney.
But Dr. Stan Gorlitsky, the veterinarian whom Rosenberg complained
about, calls her one of his "enemies."
Said Gorlitsky, "I have made some enemies. I practice holistic
medicine, and some people hate my guts for it, and some don't. Most
This Thursday, the Veterinary Board is slated to take up at least one
complaint from another citizen against Gorlitsky, 53. He declined to
Rosenberg's crusade offers a window into how an activist can change the
operations of a state agency and how South Carolina treats its pets.
Her story also raises the question: Who is the Veterinary Board
protecting - the vets, or the pets?
In June 2000, Marcia Rosenberg sought a vet to spay her kitten,
Pumpkin. Spaying prevents a female cat from having kittens.
With her love for pets, Rosenberg always has depended on veterinarians
and - new to the Mount Pleasant area - was looking for a good one.
Plenty of vets practice in the booming coastal area east of Charleston.
Rosenberg had the pick of the litter, so to speak, and settled on Dr.
Gorlitsky. He seemed to have good credentials and to be a nice man.
After the spaying, Pumpkin's stomach swelled, then turned red and raw,
according to a statement of findings later issued by the S.C. Veterinary
Two days later, Rosenberg took Pumpkin back to Gorlitsky. He sprinkled
antibiotic powder on a piece of gauze and wrapped it about Pumpkin's belly
with a piece of tape. Come back in three days, he told Rosenberg,
according to Rosenberg's complaint to the Veterinary Board.
Worried Gorlitsky had missed something, Rosenberg took Pumpkin that
same day to another veterinarian, Dr. David Steele.
Steele determined Pumpkin's internal stitches were loose and her
intestines were falling through a hole in her abdomen. He operated on
Pumpkin, saving the kitten.
"It was a life-threatening condition," said Steele.
Rosenberg filed a complaint about Gorlitsky with the S.C. Veterinary
Board. "I didn't want other animals or pet owners to suffer,"
Rosenberg also requested any prior disciplinary data the Board had on
Gorlitsky. The S.C. Veterinary Board sent her an 11-page document. Dated
Feb. 17, 1989, the record was an order from Ohio's Veterinary Board. It
found Gorlitsky committed "gross incompetence" in four pet care
cases. The Ohio board ruled Gorlitsky had:
Torn the rectum of a dog, Truffaut, while getting a routine fecal sample. Truffaut died;
Failed to give proper care to a
cat named Mittens. Mittens died;
Allowed a cat named Topaz to get
an infection during an operation. Topaz died;
Failed to give a cat named Misty
proper care during a spaying operation. Misty died.
Ohio had suspended Gorlitsky's license for a year. In the early 1990s,
Gorlitsky moved to South Carolina.
Rosenberg believed Gorlitsky's history would prompt S.C.'s Veterinary
Board to move quickly.
She was wrong.
It was 11 months before the board acted.
When the board did act, it did so in a secret hearing where officials
denied Rosenberg entrance.
Later, the Veterinary Board issued an order. It found Gorlitsky's
treatment of Pumpkin was "not within the appropriate standard of care
for a veterinary medical practitioner in South Carolina."
The board ordered Gorlitsky to pay $251 to compensate the board for its
investigation. It required him to take 20 hours of instruction in surgery
Rosenberg was astonished the board hadn't done more.
"I felt like I had been violated twice. Once with Gorlitsky, and
again by the board," she said. "Pumpkin was not an isolated
incident. It was one more in a chain of events."
Veterinary Board officials, citing confidentiality rules, declined to
discuss Gorlitsky's case.
Even before the board's ruling on Pumpkin, in May 2001, Rosenberg had
concluded S.C. laws on disciplining vets were lax.
THE SHERIDAN CASE
Two months after Pumpkin's surgery, a Charleston-area veterinarian, Dr.
Tom Sheridan, was arrested in August 2000 by the Charleston County
Deputies charged Sheridan with professional misconduct for animal
abuse. His employees complained he was losing his temper and harming
But a magistrate threw the charges against Sheridan out, saying state
law prevents veterinarians from being charged with animal abuse.
Sheridan is the animal veterinarian consultant for one of Charleston's
biggest tourist attractions - the S.C. Aquarium.
Sheridan keeps his post today, even after the S.C. Veterinary Board
ruled in June 2001 that Sheridan "engaged in unprofessional and
unethical conduct ... through his use of excessive force in
restraining" a dog. Sheridan also failed to monitor an anesthetized
cat and it died, the board ruled.
The board fined Sheridan $500, ordered him to take an anger management
course and take 15 hours of anesthesia training. Sheridan also had to pay
$4,556 for administrative costs of the Board's investigation.
"That's a slap on the wrist," said Rosenberg of Sheridan's
An Aquarium spokesman said Sheridan is an enthusiastic and
Sheridan is not left alone with Aquarium animals, the spokesman said.
But that's just because since he is a consultant, he must be with a
curator when he takes care of animals. Sheridan didn't respond to an
Sheridan wasn't Rosenberg's only worry.
She kept hearing complaints from Mount Pleasant residents that their
pets had died or been hurt while in Gorlitsky's care. Rosenberg urged them
to file complaints with the Veterinary Board.
Veterinarian Dr. Steele, who saved Pumpkin, said in the last nine
months, a Veterinary Board investigator has contacted him about two cases
in addition to Rosenberg's, Steele said.
Steele said veterinary medicine is not perfect, and pets sometimes die
after surgery, even with good care.
But he said, "People like Dr. Gorlitsky kind of give veterinarians
a bad reputation. So in certain respects, as a veterinary community, we
should be more vocal about it rather than being quiet."
Rosenberg wants to return to the relaxed life she had expected to lead
at her home in the Mount Pleasant area. It's a peaceful house, overlooking
a marsh, and she shares it with three cats and husband Marvin.
Instead, she spends her time researching state laws on the Veterinary
Board, collecting documents and networking with pet owners - all to
achieve her goal of making the board more open and accountable.
"I don't know how long it will take. But I will achieve justice
for pets," she said.
She also talks with officials like Mark Sweatman, an aide to Gov. Jim
"She's a bulldog," said Sweatman, who has helped Rosenberg
get interviews with Veterinary Board officials to press her case.
Two lawmakers - Reps. Limehouse and John Graham Altman, both Charleston
Republicans - said they will file a bill to open up the workings of the
Veterinary Board to the public.
Altman said that once the Veterinary Board has determined that charges
against a vet are serious, and the vet formally has replied to the charge,
the accusation and reply should be made public.
"This is not a bill against the board. I just want daylight,"
said Altman. "You have more confidence in a system that airs the
McKinney, who oversees the Veterinary Board, would push to make the
board more open and increase fines. Currently, the maximum fine for a vet
"Like any government agency, we work with the laws we're
given," McKinney said.
NEW GORLITSKY HEARING
In a brief recent interview at his office, Gorlitsky confirmed the
Veterinary Board would take up at least one complaint about him on
"The board asked me specifically on their paperwork not to talk
about it. ... I'm sorry. I wish I could say more."
His case shouldn't be aired in the media, he said. "It's being
taken care of by the board, and it's up to them to judge me."
Rosenberg said she won't rest until the Veterinary Board is more open
and cracks down on bad vets.
"The board has an ostrich mentality," she said. "They
look the other way. The only reason I'm doing all this is because the Vet
Board isn't doing their job."