Embattled ASPCA veterinarian resigns over carriage horse death

Embattled ASPCA veterinarian resigns over carriage horse death

Dr. Pamela Corey talks about the lessons learned from a very public event
Mar 01, 2012

JERICHO, N.Y. — A veterinarian who was suspended by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) after clarifying her comments about the death of a New York City carriage horse resigned from her post as the group's director of equine veterinary services for the Humane Law Enforcement Department.

Dr. Pamela Corey, speaking exclusively to DVM Newsmagazine, says she didn't want to resign the post she held since 2008, but was left with few options after being asked to sign a severance agreement that would have prevented her from working on or speaking about her work in equine welfare.

"It appears that the ASPCA wanted to censor or limit what I can say about my professional experiences in the ASPCA role, or even the broader issues of horse welfare that the job touched on. The agreement was so restrictive that I felt I would have to abandon my special interest and expertise in equine welfare," says Corey, who worked as an independent contractor specializing in equine welfare for years before joining ASPCA in 2008. The "gag order" wasn't limited to the case linked to her suspension, but any equine welfare work she has done or would ever do, she says.

"It wouldn't really have allowed me to work in equine welfare," she explains. "The severance agreement would have lasted forever."

Bret Hopman, a spokesperson for ASPCA, confirmed Corey's resignation, but says the organization would not offer additional comments on a personnel matter. In regard to ASPCA's role in enforcing regulations while at the same time lobbying for legislative change, Hopman says, "the ASPCA has voluntarily performed carriage horse enforcement for decades. We have done so with integrity and professionalism. Remaining steadfast to this commitment, our carriage horse enforcement work has been carried out with objectivity and fairness and always within the bounds of applicable law."

Corey says her resignation Jan. 30 came after three months on unpaid suspension related to the October death of Charlie, a New York City carriage horse. Following Charlie's death, ASPCA released a statement that included medical comments from Corey. After the release of the statement, which implied that the dead horse had been forced to work with painful maladies, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene—which licenses New York City's horse carriages—contacted ASPCA for more information about the case. Corey says ASPCA had her correction in-hand, but declined to make any new statements. When she heard the health department was looking for more information, Corey sent over a revised statement on Nov. 3. She was suspended without pay by ASPCA the same day.

Her suspension sparked a media frenzy, making Corey an unwilling "spokesperson" for pro-carriage horse groups. Even the Teamsters called for her reinstatement.

During the uproar, Corey said nothing to the mainstream media, adding she was surprised and embarrassed to see her picture on the front of The New York Times and local broadcasts.

"I wasn't looking to grandstand. I certainly didn't want to be in the spotlight," Corey says. "Everybody who knows me knows I'm very quiet and try to communicate to horse owners and veterinarians in a very professional manner and don't like to make statements without being sure of them. I was upset and unhappy to be on the news and have all of these press calls coming in to me."

Corey says she was worried about how the veterinary community would view her, and wanted to make sure another veterinarian wouldn't end up in her position without understanding what happened from her point of view.

Corey says she only wanted to remain objective in her clarification of ASPCA's original statement, and that she felt as though she was being used as a tool to make a larger political statement in relation to ASPCA's lobbying efforts to get carriage horses banned.