Ex-veterinarian charged with 48 counts of animal cruelty in New Mexico

Clopton ordered to pay $27,000 for care of seized dogs; evidence points to practicing without license.
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Apr 29, 2013

A raid April 1 of a modest three-bedroom home rented by Debra Clopton in Edgewood, N.M., revealed it to be crowded with 48 dogs in unsanitary conditions. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office had been investigating Clopton, a veterinarian whose license has been revoked, for about a month before she was served with a warrant allowing officers to seize animals and anything that could be used to practice veterinary medicine from her home. Clopton was charged with 48 counts of misdemeanor cruelty to animals. Charges of possession of controlled substances are expected to follow pending analysis.

Major Ken Johnson of the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office says most of the nearly 50 dogs were inside the home. “There was evidence of dog feces and canine waste throughout the house—extremely filthy,” Johnsons says. Officers teamed with the Doña Ana County Animal Cruelty Task Force to execute the warrant.

Members of the task force evaluated the animals and managed their safe transition to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society. The dogs’ conditions varied from fair condition to poor, Johnson says. Three dogs had to be euthanized.

The New Mexico Board of Veterinary Medicine revoked Clopton’s veterinary license June 11, 2012. Documents provided by the board show that she was notified of this pending decision in September 2011 and January 2012—both notices went unanswered. Clopton did not request a hearing or attempt to rebut or provide an explanation relating to the allegations against her in either case. The board cited incidents in 2009 and 2011 where Clopton failed to produce or forward patient laboratory results, failed to keep adequate medical records and failed to provide follow-up prescriptions or refills. With sufficient evidence from the 2009 and 2011 citations to proceed without a hearing, the board revoked Clopton’s license to practice veterinary medicine.

However, Johnson says investigators found evidence of veterinary practice at Clopton’s Edgewood home, including veterinary records, receipts and billing information. Euthanasia solution, a controlled substance, was also found in her possession. Without an active veterinary license Clopton also had no valid registration with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Adminstration. “It would be illegal for her to possess any drugs used by a veterinarian,” Johnson says. Analysis of the drugs found in her possession could take several weeks, but Johnson is confident additional charges are forthcoming.

Prior to the raid on Clopton’s home, reports from residents to the New Mexico board indicated she was practicing veterinary medicine without a license. This prompted the board to file a petition for preliminary and permanent injunction against Clopton in March. The request reads in part that “without an injunction … [Clopton’s] illegal conduct will continue.” It requests the law hold Clopton in contempt and impose a fine or jail sentence should she fail to comply with the terms of the injunction. It also asks for “any additional relief to which the board may be justly entitled.”

Santa Fe County also took to the courts to hold Clopton responsible for the financial burden of boarding the nearly 50 animals seized from her home, requesting in district court in April that Clopton pay for the animals’ care at Santa Fe Animal Shelter. “The fees that are amassing are $20 a day per animal. It roughly comes out to $900 a day,” Johnson says. The court ruled in favor of the county, ordering Clopton to pay $27,000 or relinquish ownership by May 1.

If Clopton relinquishes ownership, the animals will be considered abandoned property and available to foster or adopt. The Santa Fe Animal Shelter keeps the public updated on the “Edgewood 48” on its Facebook page. “We hope she [Clopton] will do the right thing and relinquish them to us now so we can work with them and find them great homes,” Johnson says.

The shelter is also anxious to get this resolved because the Edgewood 48 will soon be more. “Five of the 48 dogs are confirmed pregnant so that means in three weeks the 48 will be plus around 30,” an April 24 Facebook post reads. “If we get custody of the dogs we will be looking seriously for foster homes for these moms and pups but for now we can do nothing but support them the best we know how.” As of May 1, two dogs have had litters upping the shelter population by a dozen—the group is now the Edgewood 60. A district judge did rule ownership of the puppies to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society. They will be available for adoption as soon as they’re ready.

In addition to the current charges, reports indicate Clopton has been cited several times by Sandoval County Animal Control in the past for having more dogs than the law allows, neglecting rabies vaccinations, and providing inadequate shelter and shade for the animals. Johnson says Clopton engaged in a similar animal-hoarding situation in Rio Rancho, a city southwest of Santa Fe County. “She hasn’t been arrested there but there is a warrant for her in that city,” he says.

Clopton is currently out on bond.