Texas veterinarian accused of keeping dogs for experiments in 'deplorable' conditions
Millard Lucien Tierce, 71, DVM, of Fort Worth, Texas, has been arrested on suspicion of cruelty to non-livestock animals after a former employee called two of Tierce’s clients to tell them the dog they thought had been euthanized six months earlier was still alive.
In May 2013, Jamie and Marian Harris of Aledo, Texas, took their dog Sid, a 4-year-old Leonberger, to Tierce’s Camp Bowie Animal Clinic in Fort Worth for a minor anal gland procedure, according to documents from the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. Tierce said he wanted to perform the procedure using cold laser therapy, which he said would involve a longer recovery time and require that he keep the dog at the clinic.
During the next four months, the Harrises periodically called the clinic to inquire about Sid and were told that the dog’s condition was improving but that he required more time at the clinic. When the Harrises visited Sid at the clinic, they found that he was unable use his hind legs to walk. Tierce told the Harrises this was due to a medication reaction that had caused a drop in blood pressure. The Harrises stated in veterinary board documents that they weren’t concerned about this because they “trusted their veterinarian knew best and that he was acting in the best interests of Sid.”
In October 2013, Tierce took radiographs of Sid and found a congenital spinal defect, board documents state. Tierce told the Harrises that there was nothing that could be done for the condition. At this time the clients agreed to euthanize the dog to prevent him from being in constant pain with no hope of recovery.
However, Sid was not euthanized. An investigation carried out this spring has shown that he was apparently being experimented on and kept in a cage for 23.5 hours a day. In April 2014, Mary Brewer, a former employee who worked as a technician at the clinic, called the Harrises to inform them what was going on, and the Harrises returned to the clinic to remove Sid from Tierce’s care. Local news outlets have reported that Sid could walk and seemed healthy when the couple picked him up. The Harrises filed a complaint with the state veterinary board on April 22.
An inspection performed in response to the complaint turned up five other animals Tierce admitted to keeping after their owners thought they had been euthanized. While board documents and police records state only that Tierce was “experimenting on” the dogs, local media reports indicate that they were also being used for blood transfusions.
Tierce also admitted to unsanitary clinic conditions. Investigators found organs kept in jars, bugs in exam rooms, and stacks of drugs, trash, laundry and paperwork scattered throughout the clinic. Open and unsecured medications, including controlled substances, were also strewn around in a manner that could have made it easy for clients or employees to steal them, the document states.
According to the warrant for Tierce’s arrest, Fort Worth animal control officers who responded to the board’s request for assistance spoke to a technician at the clinic. The technician told them that one dog, a black-and-white collie owned by Tierce, had been in extremely poor medical condition for nearly a year without receiving treatment. The warrant states that the collie was twitching in pain, emaciated, non-ambulatory with the bottom of one foot missing, and suffering from a severe mouth disease along with a degenerative, untreatable neurological condition. The dog also had one dislocated leg and two dislocated shoulders.
M. L. Morris, DVM, who assisted the officers, examined the dog. “Conditions in the clinic were deplorable and the dog should have been euthanized,” he says in the warrant. Tierce told the officers that he had been giving the dog food and water but no medical treatment and had not performed euthanasia even though it was his professional opinion that it was the best option for the dog.
Morris also examined other dogs that had been surrendered for euthanasia and found three of them to be in such decrepit shape that they had to be euthanized, according to veterinary board documents. One of the animals had been at the clinic in a cage for two to three years after being accepted for euthanasia, the document states. Tierce also told one of the board investigators that it was his decision, not that of the owner, whether or not an animal should be euthanized.
Tierce turned himself in to Tarrant County Jail and his bond was set at $10,000, according to the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office. Tierce has been licensed since 1966 and has no previous disciplinary action on his record. Texas veterinary board spokeswoman Nicole Oria told dvm360 that at the time of publication no permanent decisions had been made but that Tierce’s license had been suspended. A hearing will be held to determine if Tierce is an imminent threat to the community and if the suspension will be continued or if further disciplinary action will be pursued. Penalties could include license revocation, suspension for a period of time, a formal reprimand or restitution.
The Texas State Health and Safety Code defines animal cruelty as any action toward an animal involving torture; overwork; abandonment; deprivation of food, care or shelter; cruel confinement; or forced fighting with another animal. Depending on the scope of the infractions, the charges can be filed as felonies or misdemeanors. Criminal charges against Tierce are still pending at time of publication. Calls from dvm360 to Tierce's practice went unanswered.