What kind of veterinarian punches animals in the face? Or taunts them by growling at them? Or, worse yet, tightens his hand around a dog's neck until it loses consciousness?
A very, very bad one, obviously, and quite possibly one who's more than a little sick. Ferndale's Peter Rule might be just such a veterinarian, if the charges levied against him by the state Department of Health are true.
We wrote about Rule a couple of years ago in a cover story ("Just One of Those Things," Sept. 29, 2010) on pet owners who are taking veterinarians to court over perceived mistreatment of their beloved four-legged family members. In most of the cases described, pet owners simply claimed that their animals had not received adequate care. Sadism typically wasn't involved.
But Rule was a different story. In 2009, animal-rights lawyer Adam Karp filed a complaint with the DOH that cited employees of Rule who claimed that their boss deliberately manhandled animals. Here's what one staffer said, quoted in the complaint:
"Once, in or around 2007, a Chihuahua was terrorized in the cage by doctor. [Rule] was banging on the cage door, growling at the dog, jumping toward it, trying to get the dog worked up. When he pulled the dog out of the cage, it snapped and growled at Dr. Rule, who then started choking the dog on the table. The dog was lying on its side. He put his hand around the dog's neck and choked it to the point that it passed out. Dr. Rule said he learned this as a way to get an animal under control. I was shaking from witnessing this episode."
Finally, just last month, DOH's State Veterinary Board of Governors released a statement of charges that mirrors many of the claims in Karp's complaint. It accuses Rule of "physically and psychologically abusing patients."
But that's not all. The board also says that Rule allowed, and in one case pressured, unlicensed assistants to perform surgery. That's strictly forbidden by DOH rules. Then again, Rule apparently wasn't so great at wielding the knife either. Accusing Rule of providing substandard care, the statement says that in one case, Rule nicked the spleen of a dog named Daisy. She started to bleed. Rule couldn't control it. And Daisy bled to death.
His surgical skills, not to mention his attitude toward his patients, might have something to do with his habit of dipping into the clinic's stock of the pain reliever Tramadol, according to employees cited in the statement of charges.
In a conversation with SW, Rule says that the accusations of abuse "grossly twisted what actually happened." In the incident with the Chihuahua, for instance, he says he was not choking the dog but merely holding the animal "in the only safe place" possible while putting a muzzle on it. The employee who said she had been traumatized by the alleged choking continued to bring her dog to him, Rule adds.
The veterinarian also denies letting assistants perform surgery, and says that while he at one point took Tramadol without a prescription, it did not interfere with his surgical performance.
"I'm not saying I don't make mistakes," he concedes—accepting responsibility, however, for the death of Daisy.