Couple files complaint against vet By Donna Hales Phoenix Staff Writer
Muskogee veterinarian Dr. James Risch admits he impulsively neutered and de-barked his neighbor’s 10-week-old puppy, thinking it was a stray.
“He maimed my puppy,” Nancy Miller of 3210 Cromwell wrote in a May 10 complaint about Risch to the Oklahoma State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. “This man is a menace to animals and should not be allowed to continue to practice.”
The Phoenix met an investigator with the state board recently at Miller’s home in connection with the state investigation, but he said he could not comment, that it would be against the law for him to do so.
Miller’s complaint states she had the puppy, Max, two days when Risch took it from her fenced-in yard and neutered it and de-barked it.
The puppy already had been wormed by Miller’s vet and given antibiotic for a toxic condition because of tick infestation, the complaint said.
Risch, a former Muskogee City Councilor, e-mailed the Phoenix that he found the puppy barking on his porch and there was no “evidence of ownership.” He emphatically denies getting the puppy from his neighbor’s yard.
Miller’s complaint states she has an entirely fenced yard and that the puppy could not get out on his own. The Phoenix observed no gaps in the high wooden fence that appeared to be anchored into the ground.
Risch wrote he gave the puppy vaccinations, bathed it, treated it for ear mites, neutered it and de-barked it. Risch described de-barking as a ventriculocordectomy, which he said was a “simple procedure that reduces the volume of the bark but does not inhibit the dog’s ability to bark.”
He wrote he often does that with a stray when it appears it might take awhile to find it a home.
State expert says investigation needed Dr. Charles Helwig, executive director of the Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association, said he is glad the puppy’s owners contacted the Oklahoma State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners.
“It sounds like there definitely needs to be an investigation here,” Helwig said.
Miller said her puppy was in her fenced-in yard when she went to work April 24. Miller was gone from home for one hour and 20 minutes when her husband got home and discovered the puppy was missing. He called her at work and 12 minutes later she was home helping him scour the neighborhood for the missing puppy.
Risch pulled up in his vehicle and asked if they were looking for a puppy, she said in her complaint.
Nancy Miller contends Risch knew the puppy was hers and not a stray. He denies that.
“I had never seen that pup before — ever,” Risch e-mailed the Phoenix.
Miller’s complaint states Risch told the Millers that his daughter, Olivia, and wife, Fran, had told him the Millers had a new puppy.
“You’re right, I did it for myself. It was wrong,” Miller’s complaint states Risch told her. “I feel bad that I upset Fran. She told me not to do it and I did it anyway.”
Risch said he did not tell Miller that. In his handwritten apology to the Millers, Risch wrote that he did not talk to his wife and check around before he “impulsively took the stray pup from our front porch to the clinic.
“I admit my wrongdoing. I would like you to know that I have sought counseling to understand and correct my impulsive behavior.”
Risch also wrote that he did not dislike the Millers’ other dog, Phil, “but rather it is the barking at nothing that can be like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. I have made progress recently and have been more able to tune out the barking.”
Risch wrote that he had called another neighbor at 3 a.m. to complain of his barking dog.
Neutering and de-barking strays “A vet doing the castrating or neutering or de-barking on a stray, I would say that’s pretty unusual,” Helwig told the Phoenix in a phone interview.
De-barking is an acceptable procedure but is done “very, very rarely,” Helwig said. “I call it life threatening surgery. If behavior training doesn’t work, then de-bark. It makes them sound like they’re kind of hoarse. De-barking is awfully unusual if the animal is not their animal.”
Risch said his preference would be behavior modification, “but this was a stray dog.”
Miller’s complaint states Risch would have had to find the “loose” puppy, put it in his car, take it to his office, perform all the procedures listed on a $185 invoice (exam, anesthesia, neuter, cut vocal cords, treat ears, bathe/dip, injections) and then return home and “bump into” her husband and say he had the puppy — in less than one hour and 15 minutes.
A copy of the $185 bill for the unauthorized procedures Risch gave Miller is a part of the official state complaint. She said he gave the bill to her but told her not to worry about paying it. It is made out in his wife’s name instead of Miller’s name.
Risch said he never intended for Miller to pay the bill.
Complaint tells of other dog deaths Miller told the Phoenix she was distraught and crying about what happened to her puppy. She said she learned five people she works with had dogs or cats die under Risch’s care.
She wrote in her complaint that within seven days after her puppy was allegedly maimed she learned of three more pet deaths while under Risch’s care.
The list denoted eight pet owners who had taken their dog or cat to Risch for treatment. Pet illnesses including everything from grooming and spaying to treatment for a broken leg. Anesthesia had been used on all the pets, Miller said.
She said Monday she has since learned that one of the eight people on the list did have a dog that died in the care of a vet but that it was not Risch.
Helwig told the Phoenix that “even with something major, pre-anesthesia blood work and the safety of anesthesia — it’s minimal that you would ever lose an animal. I’m not saying it wouldn’t happen with older animals with heart disease. But loss from surgery is minimal.”
The percentage of animals that die under the care of a vet has a lot to do with the condition of the animals when taken in for care, Helwig said.
Some of the people listed as losing animals on Miller’s complaint talked to the Phoenix.
Steve Hines said that about a year and a half ago he took a stray yellow lab with a broken leg to Risch. The dog was about a year old, Hines said.
Instead of just working on the dog’s leg, Hines said Risch “went ahead and tried to neuter it. I had not asked him to neuter it.”
The dog died, Hines said.
Jody Blankenship told the Phoenix that in 2004 she took Sadie, a calico cat she’d had a year, to Risch. The cat had started tearing up her carpet. Risch planned to declaw the cat, she said.
“He called me at 9 p.m. that night and said she didn’t react well to the anesthesia — she was not dead but he was keeping an eye on her.” She said Risch told her the next day that her cat had died.
“I was crying,” Blankenship said. “I think he just overdosed her.”
Jim Henry and Shirley Williams said they took their kitten to Risch to be neutered about six months ago and Risch called and said the kitten had had a cardiac arrest.
Shirley Williams said Risch said he’d used the wrong anesthesia and there would be no charge.
“It (Willie’s death) really made me angry,” she said. “I’d had him three or four months and gotten attached to him. I was crying and upset.”
Dean Williams remembered his mother taking her healthy dog to Risch to be bathed probably in 1990. The dog died.
“He was putting dogs to sleep to give them a bath,” Williams said.
“Some of those go way back,” Risch said of the cases in question.
Risch’s customers laud his performance Roberta and Rodney Brook of Muskogee laud Risch’s expertise as a veterinarian.
“We’re really, really pleased — he would come out on the weekend and help us out with one of our dogs,” Roberta Brook said. “He’s honest and forthright. He’s outstanding — I can’t understand (complaints).”
Muskogee attorney Mark Green said he’s been really pleased with Risch’s services, saying he’s used Risch to take care of his dogs’ services for 15 to 20 years.
“I’ve never seen him do anything inappropriate,” Green said. “I can only tell you that Dr. Risch is a real good vet — I’m tickled to death with his services.”
Green added that he’s seen Risch find homes for dogs over the years.
“I’ve got one that lives at my house right now. I know he was charged with finding a home for her.”
Millers used doctor previously Miller’s complaint states she and her husband earlier had used Risch as a vet for their dog, Phil. They switched to another vet after Risch performed surgery on Phil one morning and when picked up in the late afternoon, Phil “was still in a semi-conscious state and limp as a rag doll and covered in feces.
“The dog was handed to my husband, and we were told he would come out of it eventually. This was certainly not normal procedure when releasing an animal after surgery.”
Miller’s complaint also states at the time Phil was left for surgery, Risch told the Millers he would like to perform a ventriculocordectomy while Phil was sedated.
“We vehemently opposed this and told him we would sue him if he did it,” the complaint states.
Miller wrote that Risch’s letter of apology to her and her husband did not excuse him from maiming their new puppy, “but it certainly confirms that he knew his actions were wrong.”
What a horrible, horrible little man. He needs to be shot in the a$$ for what he did. Oh yeah, he normally de-barks stray dogs. Yeah right, the pup was oboviously pissing him off in the two days his neighbor had it. I don't know who he would've thought that his neighbor wouldn't have noticed. Geesh...I wonder what this man has done to other pets without the permission of their owners.
What kind of vet cant stand the sound of barking? If you have to go to therapy because your neighbors dog barks then what the he** does he do to the animals while at the clinci? This makes me sick. The sad truth is most vets find animals very annoying. I only use vets I completely trust.
Number one the jerk is in the wrong profession. Sounds like he takes his flustrations out on his patients. Maybe he has a straight jacket waiting for him somewhere. Hopefully before he hurts anyone else's pet.
Well I have to say there are crazy vets out there....we just brought our guys to the vet today and our local vet is a one man operation. To me, he's been great, probably b/c my animals just go in there for shots and *thankfully* haven't needed any real services.
But today I was in there with both of them, my husband and son. We struck up a conversation with one woman who had brought her rat terrier (obviously pregnant) in.
Nosey me asked "oh where did you get her?"
The pet store - was her reply
Ouch....she said she had asked this vet a few months ago if she could breed this female rat terrier with her chihuahua so she could have cute mixed puppies and this guy said "hey no problem." OUCH!!
But the real kicker was that he never even explained ANY PART of the pregnancy to this woman. I found myself telling her that the pregnancy should last around 63 days and all the special diet additions she should do to ensure this momma gets all the nutrition, etc....she had no idea on what shots/ wormings the pups should have...AHHHH!!
Then we were in the exam room and we heard a ruckus out in the lobby. There was a woman out there with her dog who was obviously angry (growling and snarling) The vet slammed our exam room door and made the woman leave. Said he wouldn't even look at her dog unless he could sedate it!!! He didn't need to sedate the dog....
My husband looked at me and said "We are finding a new vet!" I agreed with him. I just chose this guy b/c he didn't charge office fees, only charged you for the shots and that was it...
But man I had an eye opening experience....just because they receive their degrees does NOT a good vet they make!!!!