By Jessica Tremayne
For Veterinary Practice News
The Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners has suspended a veterinarian’s medical license after viewing a secretly recorded video that showed him inhumanely restraining and euthanizing animals at a county shelter.
The board deemed William Baber, DVM, an “eminent threat to public safety” and will not allow him to practice pending the results of an additional hearing, at which his license to practice may be revoked.
Dr. Baber has a private practice in Gallatin, Tenn., and a contract with Sumner County Animal Control to perform euthanasias.
The board said it suspended Baber's license for:
* Engaging in gross malpractice or a pattern of continued or repeated malpractice, ignorance, negligence or incompetence in the course of practicing veterinary medicine;
* Unprofessional or unethical conduct or engaging in practices in connection with the practice of veterinary medicine that are in violation of the standards of professional conduct;
* Conduct reflecting unfavorably upon the profession of veterinary medicine;
* Professional incompetence;
* Leaving non-livestock animals unattended during euthanasia procedures and before death occurs, and not confirming death before the body is disposed of.
Baber had not returned calls seeking comment by press time after the Nov. 7 suspension.
He was ordered to appear at a hearing before the board Dec. 13, at which time board members will decide whether to suspend, revoke or impose other disciplinary action against Baber’s license or his private facility, the South Water Animal Hospital in Gallatin.
The county has opened a criminal investigation into his activities.
The euthanasias were performed by intracardiac injection at Sumner County Animal Control in Gallatin. The method is allowed only in certain situations and those conditions were not met, the board found.
Television station WSMV/4 of Nashville reported that Baber was paid $9 per euthanasia and that animals were taken to him as quickly as one a minute. “Video evidence showed Baber stepping on animals to restrain them and injecting them in the heart and abdomen,” says Diana Townsend, a euthanasia technician and founder of Safe Place for Animals, a non-profit animal shelter.
“Baber instructed jail trustee assistants to scruff dogs and hold them in the air while he injected euthanasia solution into their hearts.”
Philip Gordon, DVM, the assistant state veterinarian, says nearly all euthanasias follow American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines, which deem intracardiac injections unacceptable.
“Intracardiac euthanasia is allowed only if the animal is under sedation,” Dr. Gordon says. “Injecting an unsedated animal in the heart is not humane and is not a practice veterinarians should prefer to perform.”
Local television news stations reported that Baber said he was not aware that the method is illegal. But over his three-year stint contracting with the county, the law has been apparent to other veterinarians in Tennessee.
Andrea Turner, director of communications for the state health department’s Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, said no other hearings of this nature have taken place during her time with the board.
Townsend, the technician, says she notified Sumner County Executive Hank Thompson of her suspicions of abuse at the animal control facility more than six months before the video was shown on TV. She says she offered to euthanize animals as a volunteer.
“I was told ‘no, thank you’ by Mr. Thompson as far as performing all euthanasias, but I was permitted to come in on Fridays,” Townsend says.
“This is when I realized the euthanasia log was compromised,” she says. “Entries said IV euthanasias were performed, but only 18-gauge needles were in the sharps container. “Also, Baber’s actions were suspicious. Everything had to be locked up when he was performing euthanasias, and I was not permitted in the room when he was performing them.”
Thompson says he denied Townsend’s request because volunteers do not last long at performing euthanasias and he preferred to leave the job to a licensed veterinarian.
“The district attorney will be investigating Baber’s actions,” Thompson says. “The euthanasias at Sumner Animal Control will be carried out by a yet-to-be-determined qualified professional. Baber will not be performing euthanasias pending the finalization of the investigation.”
Baber’s actions came to light when a Sumner County Animal Control worker secretly videotaped Baber administering intracardiac injections to dogs and cats. The method is a direct violation of Tennessee law, which states this form of euthanasia is to be performed only after other methods are exhausted and only when the animal is under sedation, is anesthetized or is comatose.
“The undercover video was distributed to a local news station and the police,” Townsend told Veterinary Practice News. “The publicity has spurred PETA to become involved, locals are in an uproar and [because] death threats have been made to staff at the facility, the shelter has closed for safety purposes.”
Charges were brought against Baber in October 2004 in his private practice.
“Baber failed to apply for or receive a premises permit for his South Water Animal Hospital,” says Turner, the board communications director. “The board and Baber agreed a fine of $2,550 would be paid ($50 per month of operation without a premises permit), and the permit would be acquired.”
Townsend says she is concerned with Baber’s actions for more than his method of euthanasia.
“The brutality demonstrated by Baber is disturbing,” she says. “He rushed the assistants to get the next animal as if he couldn’t get through the euthanasias fast enough. The video shows dying animals staggering around the room as he moves on to euthanize the next one. “I think Dr. Baber’s license should be taken away from him. ... Someone who treats animals that way has real issues.”
Legal action doesn’t stop with the license suspension.
“Additional investigations will take place regarding Baber’s veterinary practices,” Turner says. “The information found will be used in his next hearing to determine if his license to practice veterinary medicine is revoked.”
Townsend says she will pursue an agreement with the county to perform euthanasias and to help increase adoptions at Sumner County Animal Control by having all adopted animals vaccinated, altered, microchipped and groomed before leaving the facility.
She says this can all be achieved using the county’s current operating budget.