California veterinarian arrested after dog dies in hot vehicle

Veterinary surgeon is 'devastated' after dog's death from suspected heat exhaustion.
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Aug 09, 2012

Investigators with the Riverside County, Calif., Sheriff’s Department say 51-year-old veterinary surgeon Douglas James Huber, DVM, MS, DACVS, “was very distraught and visibly upset over the loss of his dog.” Huber learned of his 8-year-old German shepherd’s death from emergency personnel who freed the dog from Huber’s locked vehicle at 9:05 a.m. Aug. 4. The vehicle was parked outside Huber’s veterinary clinic in the 42000 block of Washington Street in Palm Desert, Calif.

According to investigators, Huber arrived at Desert Veterinary Specialists during the night for an emergency. Huber brought his dog with him to the clinic but left him in the vehicle. Huber told police the procedure lasted much longer than expected and he stayed at the clinic into the morning hours. The dog may have been in the car more than 10 hours. The low temperature that day was 84 degrees, with a high of 107; it was 95 degrees outside when the dog was found locked in the vehicle without food or water.

Officers who arrived on the scene were at first unable to locate the dog’s owner. At that point the dog was panting heavily and had lapsed into seizures. An officer broke the vehicle window in an attempt to save the dog’s life. Once the dog was removed from the vehicle, officers tried to cool the dog with water but were unsuccessful.

Despite the fact that they were outside a veterinary clinic, the sheriff’s department says, “no medical staff was on scene while the dog was alive to provide assistance or advice.” The dog died at approximately 9:30 a.m.

Huber was located at 9:54 a.m. and arrested under California Penal code 597.7(b). The law states, "No person shall leave or confine an animal in any unattended motor vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well-being of an animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or lack of food or water, or other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal." Huber was booked into Riverside County Jail in Indio, Calif., and released on $2,500 bail.

Huber’s attorney, Dean Benjamini, said in an e-mail to DVM Newsmagazine that Huber was “emotionally devastated by the tragic loss of his beloved dog” and that he has received an abundance of support from his clients and peers. “Dr. Huber is a highly skilled and beloved veterinarian in the Coachella Valley who has been blessed with an outpouring of support and encouragement from his clients, whose many pets he has saved, as well as from the local veterinary community,” Benjamini says.

There are currently no charges filed against Huber while the Riverside District Attorney is reviewing the case. If Huber is charged, the penalty could include a fine of up to $500 or imprisonment in a county jail for a maximum of six months.

It’s uncertain whether Huber’s arrest will affect the status of his veterinary license. At this time the California Veterinary Medical Board simply says it’s looking into the allegations against Huber. As of Aug. 10, his license was listed on the board’s website as current and valid, although its status was defined as “clear.” According to the board, that means “the license could still carry restrictions from any indicated disciplinary actions.” There were no disciplinary actions in association with Huber’s license shown on the website.

Benjamini says Huber “only wishes to be able to continue to serve the community as he has for so long.”