William Baber, DVM, of Gallatin, Tenn., faces 12 misdemeanor charges by the Sumner County Sheriff’s Department after a secretly recorded video and an investigation unveiled unlawful activity.
The criminal charges come on the heels of the Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners’ decision in December to suspend his license to practice until April 24.
The charges and board action grew out of violations of the Tennessee Veterinary Practice Act and state laws. A secretly recorded video showed him inhumanely restraining and euthanizing animals by intracardiac injection at a county shelter.
Dr. Baber must appear at the Tennessee Veterinary Board’s April meeting and demonstrate that he has completed a board-approved euthanasia certification course, completed five hours of board-approved continuing education in professional ethics and he must show that he attended psychological counseling/therapy.
“There is a lot of animosity toward Dr. Baber, not only locally, but nationally as well,” said Major Don Linzy, chief of detectives for the Sheriff’s Department.
“He has been practicing locally for a long time and has even assisted law enforcement agencies in previous animal cruelty cases, so this activity comes as a surprise to many people. But video footage doesn’t lie.”
Sources say there is local interest in posting video footage of Baber engaging in illegal acts against animals on YouTube.com to maximize awareness of the veterinarian’s actions. The video has been shown in edited form on a local television news station.
“I do not have a lot of sympathy for Dr. Baber,” said Kate Zimmerman, DVM, a Bluff City, Tenn. practice owner. “Veterinarians take an oath to do no harm to animals and he betrayed the animals and the profession.”
Baber’s attorney, John Pellegrin of Pellegrin & Boyers criminal law firm in Gallatin, said Baber hopes to improve his tarnished image by following the board’s order but “knows he has the support of his clients.”
When Baber shows he has completed the requirements, his license to practice in the state will be placed on probation for five years. During his probationary period, he must appear annually at the board’s spring meetings, beginning in spring 2009.
“Dr. Baber doesn’t have any current intentions of returning to practice at a shelter,” Pellegrin said. “He’s just looking forward to putting this all behind him, and hopefully continuing to practice in his profession.”
Baber is prohibited from practicing veterinary medicine in an animal control facility or animal shelter setting during the probation period. He also must pay two Type A civil penalties at $1,000 each; the fine is based upon the circumstances leading to the violation, the severity of his violations, the risk of harm to the public and the economic benefits Baber gained as a result of his noncompliance with the law.
“Baber made $9 per euthanasia,” Linzy said. “He cleared about $30,000 in euthanasias alone in 2007. It seems like there was an incentive to do the job quickly to get as many in as he could.”
Baber also must pay the bill for the hearing incurred by the Office of General Counsel, Department of Health, related to the prosecution of the charges against him, including investigatory costs. The total bill had not been tallied at press time. Andrea Turner, director of communications of the Tennessee Department of Health, said he will be responsible for paying the fee within 30 days of receiving the bill.
Baber awaits criminal charges at a scheduled Jan. 16 general sessions hearing, where he will face charges of:
• Two counts of unlawful intracardiac injection of dogs
• Two counts of unverified deaths of dogs
• Two counts of unverified deaths of cats
• Four counts of cruelty to animals
• Two counts of falsifying government records
“We could have charged him with 100 or more counts of unlawful IC injections of dogs as well as more counts of unverified deaths of animals and falsifying of government records,” Linzy said.
“Since there is no previous criminal history on Baber, and the charges are all misdemeanors, it is unlikely adding up all of the cases would alter the verdict. I also do not expect he will serve the maximum sentence.”
Baber could serve up to 11 months and 29 days in jail for each of the 12 misdemeanor charges, or as little as probation. The maximum sentence would be almost 12 years in prison.
Diana Townsend, a euthanasia technician and founder of Safe Place for Animals, a nonprofit animal shelter, had offered to perform euthanasias for Sumner County, but was told by Hank Thompson, county executive, that he was interested in having only a licensed veterinarian hold the position.
Townsend did, however, perform the euthanasias between Baber’s December 2007 suspension until Jan. 1, when David Clariday, DVM, a Mount Juliet, Tenn. practice owner, took over the euthanasia duties.
Asked his objective in his new position, Clariday said, “I plan on doing things by the book.”
Baber had a contract with the Sumner County Rabies and Animal Control Agency from 2005-2007. The board found him guilty of euthanizing dogs and cats in a manner not in accordance with the methods required by the state’s Non-livestock and Animal Humane Death Act. This method also did not comply with the standards of practice for veterinary medicine in the state of Tennessee.
The board found that:
• Baber did not perform the euthanasias in a room separate from other animals, as required.
• He administered IC injections of sodium pentobarbital to dogs and cats that were not sedated, anesthetized or comatose.
• Baber did not exercise skill in selecting an injection site for euthanasia.
• He did not verify death of animals before disposing of them in an incinerator.
• He falsified the euthanasia log, falsely recording weight, method of euthanasia, dosage of pentobarbital and verification of death.
• He stepped on animals to restrain them and piled dead and dying animals on top of one another.
The board suspended Baber’s license because his actions were by law considered fraudulent, deceptive, dishonest and illegal in connection with the practice of veterinary medicine, the board said.
Baber’s “gross malpractice,” the board found, revealed a pattern of “repeated malpractice, ignorance, incompetence and neglect’ that reflected poorly on the profession of veterinary medicine.
Although the Non-livestock Animal Humane Death Act has been in place since July 1, 2001, Baber, 52, told the board that he was unaware of the law. The law states that IC euthanasias are not permitted unless the non-livestock animal is heavily sedated, comatose or anesthetized.
“Baber’s defense of not knowing the law had changed is a real kicker,” Linzy said.
“In my interviews, County Executive Hank Thompson told me he had warned Baber not to perform IC euthanasias after he was tipped off by a local animal organization. Furthermore, why then did he falsify the euthanasia log to read the procedures were performed intravenously and note that he checked the animals’ pulse before placing them in the incinerator, which he did not in numerous documented cases?”
“My client is responsible for thousands of dollars of legal fees and fines, he is no longer receiving income from work at the animal shelter and he cannot practice medicine at his private practice,” Pellegrin said. “He is also financially responsible for the care of his daughter.We are optimistic this case will be resolved in general session, but it could continue on to the grand jury or even criminal court.”
Linzy said it is an unfortunate situation, but feels Baber’s offenses must be answered with legal action.
“Pellegrin said he spoke with many Tennessee veterinarians and all said they were unaware of the law and they perform IC euthanasias,” Linzy said.
“But when asked to supply names of these veterinarians, Pellegrin said he wouldn’t want the veterinarians to implicate themselves in court. I was unable to find a veterinarian who was ignorant of this law.”
However, Dr. Zimmerman, owner of the Tri-County Veterinary Hospital east of Gallatin, said she knew of the state’s euthanasia law, but said, “A decent veterinarian wouldn’t want to perform intracardiac euthanasias unless the animal was in a comatose or anesthetized state.
“In 12 years o practicing veterinary medicine, I have performed maybe five IC euthanasias,” Zimmerman said. “All were done when the animal was agonal or comatose. The real concern I have with this case is the lax judgment of the veterinary board. This level of callous disregard for animal welfare is unrepairable. Why he is given the chance to remain in the profession I do not know.”
Baber’s private practice, South Water Animal Hospital in Gallatin, Tenn., is open on Fridays for grooming only.
Linzy said this is the first case against a Tennessee veterinarian involving these charges.
“I don’t know how anyone, especially a veterinarian, could treat animals the way I saw Baber handle them on the video,” Linzy adds.
“Many animals in a shelter environment have never known love or kindness, and to see them die the way they did is really unsettling.”
Jessica Tremayne is a freelance writer in Ohio.