DVM denies he injected racehorses with vodka
GRAND ISLAND, NEB. — A state veterinary leader and trusted doctor challenges critics to "get both sides of the story" before drawing conclusions on charges that he injected vodka in horses before races — a practice rumored to soothe animal anxiety.
Charged with four misdemeanor counts of tampering with a publicly exhibited contest, Jay Stewart, DVM and past president of the Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association, is accused of injecting four horses with vodka before races at Grand Island's Fonner Park. His trial is scheduled for March 29 in Hall County Court.
"I'm innocent of these charges. I fully expect to be found innocent of these charges," says Stewart, who could face a maximum of $5,000 in fees and one year in jail for each charge. "But if I am innocent, it'll likely receive little or no attention. Reputations take a lifetime to build up and one day to tear down."Although deeming the experience "very frustrating," Stewart says he has received much support. "I've gotten a great amount of encouragement from doctors, even across the country, in regard to this matter. I've gotten a lot of support from people and veterinarians, not only in my community, but all over. And that's meant a lot to me and my family," he says.
Charges against Stewart stem from an investigation by the Nebraska State Patrol after the Nebraska State Racing Commission fielded a complaint. The four injections allegedly happened between February and April 2005, according to court records.
In Nebraska, the state racing commission completes drug tests on all racehorses placing first through third, along with any other horses recommended by track stewards. Only two drugs are permitted in moderation at race time—phenylbutazone, or bute, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug representing aspirin, and salix, an anti-bleeding medication, says Dennis Oelschlager, executive secretary for the state racing commission.
If the case is decided in his favor, Stewart, who has served as secretary-treasurer, president-elect, president and now past president of the NVMA, likely will continue his career without penalty, says Dennis Lee, chairman of the state racing commission. Founded on principles to protect, preserve and promote agriculture and horse racing by working to prevent and eliminate corrupt practices, the commission is withholding any possible fine or license suspension until Stewart's case is settled.
"We are not doing anything at this point. We are going to let the county attorney do his thing and, upon resolution of that case, we'll either do something or nothing," Lee says.
Regardless of the verdict and legal or professional repercussions, Stewart says he remains committed to veterinary medicine. "I can't just walk away from everything I took a lifetime to develop. I'm not just going to bow my head and crawl off," he says.
Raised on a Nebraska ranch, working with animals and livestock became a part of Stewart's daily work routine. "It was pretty natural for me to look closely at veterinary medicine as a way to pursue my interest in science and still maintain my connection with animals," he says.
After completing his veterinary education at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Stewart remained in the state for about 15 years at a mixed-animal practice. Wanting to return to his home state, he and his family moved to Grand Island in 1995. Several years after joining the local veterinary hospital, also a mixed-animal practice, Stewart began devoting a small amount of time to working at Grand Island's racetrack, which was in need of veterinary help.
"I've owned horses all my life and enjoyed working with them, so it was a very natural thing," Stewart says.
Despite the charges, he doesn't regret his work with the track. "I've enjoyed the experience. I've enjoyed the practice. There are some people I would rather not have to deal with, but that is true of any situation."
Although not commenting on the direct impact to his practice, Stewart says he also is concerned about a possible stigma on the local veterinary community. "This whole thing has been extremely frustrating to me, partly because it came at a time when I was elected president of the Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association. I have considered that whatever happens with this situation could reflect negatively on the veterinary profession in the state of Nebraska," Stewart says.