Vindicated: State waits two years to clear veterinarian's name
LAKE WORTH, FLA. — It took almost two years for Florida regulators to clear the name of a veterinarian wrongly accused of issuing bogus health certificates to an unscrupulous dog breeder.
Dr. Ted Brinkman, owner of the Animal Clinic of Lake Worth, says the experience cost him clients and left him questioning the effectiveness of the regulatory system.
"The whole process just stinks. If you're guilty, you should do the time. But I question whether (the complaint) should be on a website if there's an allegation made," Brinkman tells DVM Newsmagazine.Brinkman's problems began in 2008 when a longtime client, a Bulldog breeder, came to his hospital seeking health certificates for a litter of puppies. Brinkman described the man as a good client and reputable breeder for the four years he had known him. And the puppies he brought in that day were healthy.
Within a few weeks, Brinkman started receiving telephone calls from new owners of puppies sold by this breeder. They were all complaining about health problems.
What Brinkman didn't know at the time was that the breeder had 20 to 30 more sick puppies at home he couldn't afford to bring in for treatment. So, the breeder allegedly forged health certificates from those obtained during that initial visit.
Brinkman even had a chance to compare the copies of the health certificates, and he says there was no question they had been tampered with. Brinkman fired the breeder, but the damage was already done, he says.
"Some of the (owners) went to animal control, one called the (Florida) Department of Professional Regulation. They have to investigate, and it gets put on a website," Brinkman says. "My lawyer said to me that most of the time when the DPR investigates a claim, they charge you a fee for their investigation, even if you're innocent."
But in his case, DPR investigators found so little evidence to back a claim that they not only threw the case out but also waived all of the fees associated with the investigation, he says.
Even so, the state was in no hurry to close this case, either.
According to DPR records, the complaint against Brinkman was opened in April 2009 but wasn't closed until Feb. 8, 2011.
"I had a lawyer paid for by the American Veterinary Medical Association through malpractice insurance, but I lost clients; I lost all kinds of things," Brinkman says. "It's hurtful. We try to do the best job we can. And to read your name in print, it's just very uncool."
Some clients came by to collect their pets' medical records after reading the story in the local newspaper without even listening to Brinkman's defense. On the flip side, he was "overwhelmed" at the number of other clients who came to his defense and offered to speak on his behalf as character witnesses.
As for pursuing a civil suit against the breeder, Brinkman says he isn't hopeful, since "there are a lot of people looking for him, and he's nowhere to be found."
"He probably owns the shirt on his back and that's all. It's sad," Brinkman says. "He wasn't a bad person. For three years, he was a good client, took care of his dogs and did what he was supposed to do."
The biggest problem through the whole ordeal, he says, was the implication that he was guilty after the DPR posted the allegations against him on its website, and it was available to the world without an explanation or retraction.
"It was incredible how slow and inefficient and poorly it was handled."