Washington veterinarian accused of abusing patients and clinic medication

Peter Rule, DVM, says allegations are false, blames disgruntled former employees.
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Dec 04, 2012
By dvm360.com staff

The Washington state Veterinary Board of Governors charged Peter Rule, DVM, of Glacierview Animal Hospital, Ferndale, Wash., with unprofessional conduct in October. According to a release by the board, allegations include diverting drugs for his own use, physically and psychologically abusing patients, aiding and abetting unlicensed practice, not providing patient records upon request, providing veterinary care that fell below the standard and leaving the clinic when patients were under sedation and recovering from surgery.

The board’s statement of charges includes evidence surrounding three open cases involving five clients and interviews from individuals who were part of Rule’s staff at the time of the incidents. Rule contends the allegations are false--brought forth by disgruntled former employees--although he has admitted that he did take medications from the clinic without a prescription.

He will be given the opportunity to defend his case at a board hearing set for May 9-10, 2013--although in an e-mail to dvm360 Rule said the case may be settled before then. “They (board members) are currently looking to settle this without a hearing, but I am requiring they remove allegations that are criminal in nature with the exception of the tramadol,” Rule says. “This needs to be corrected as far as the time period I used that medication, and the significance of it also, before I sign anything.”

In a letter to Department of Health Staff Attorney Elyette Weinstein, which Rule provided to dvm360, he wrote, “I had taken no more than 50 tablets of tramadol over a one-year period ending Feb. 2, 2008, taken for lower back pain without a prescription.  My own doctor was aware of this and recommended I stop taking it due to side effects on Feb 2.  This can be verified from my own medical records.”

According to the board’s statement of charges, from around April 2005 to July 2008 at least five staff members observed Rule using tramadol, taking it from the clinic’s stock. Tramadol, an opiate-like agonist, is most often used to treat chronic pain. While it is not considered a controlled substance in the United States, there is a risk of dependence and abuse, according to Plumb’s Veterinary Drug Handbook.

Throughout the same approximate time frame, three employees reported observing Rule physically and psychologically abusing patients. The report claims that Rule “taunted patients by ‘getting in their faces,’ or growling at them; slapped or punched their faces; pulled their tails; and tightened his hand around the animal’s neck until it lost consciousness.”

Also within 2005 to 2008 and in August 2010, the statement charges, Rule allowed unlicensed assistants “to perform surgery, suture, administer anesthesia, administer pre-anesthetic medications through a catheter, intubate and ‘bag’ animals who stopped breathing.” It also accuses him of verbally pressuring an unlicensed assistant to perform spay and neuter surgery.

Standard of care issues were also documented via an employee observation that Rule left the clinic on one or more occasions while patients were under sedation and recovering from surgery when no veterinarian or veterinary technician was present. The board’s statement also describes cases in which complaints ranged from a patient that bled to death to a patient that was burned by a heating device. Rule also failed to provide medical records for two of the clients within the required 10 days of their request.

Rule, his wife, Tracy, and the staff of Glacierview Animal Hospital are protesting the charges. A statement on the practice website calls the allegations fabrications. “We want to let you know that these allegations are FALSE and have been made by disgruntled former employees who were fired years ago or left on otherwise bad terms. We are looking forward to a hearing with the Veterinary Board in the Spring of 2013 when we will have a chance to disprove these allegations once and for all,” the statement reads.

Despite admitting to taking the clinic’s tramadol, Rule hopes for vindication after what the clinic’s Facebook page calls a “hideous story” now made public. “Whatever comes out of the media, social media, etc in the coming days, favorable towards us or not, take it with a grain of salt,” a clinic Facebook post reads.

Several of Rule’s recent and current employees, as well as his former employer at Firegrove Veterinary Hospital in Puyallup, Wash., have come to his defense and are writing letters to the health department attorney. “While working under Dr. Rule I have never witnessed any form of negligence or abuse,” wrote Aan Gonsalves, a veterinary assistant at Glacierview Animal Hospital since October 2008. “Dr. Rule always offers his patients and clients an exceptional level of care. I have never witnessed Dr. Rule ask myself or any staff member to perform any duties that are ethically wrong or illegal. Dr. Rule provides a positive example and shows good moral character during his interaction with patients and clients.”

Rule’s practice website states that he graduated from Washington State University in 2001 and that he enjoys working at a local rescue organization. He and his wife, who works as the clinic’s practice manager, have four children and several pets. The website says his wife is working to be a licensed veterinary technician. Rule also volunteers at the local fire department and is awaiting verification of his emergency medical technician certification currently pending with the state.

Rule’s veterinary license remains active pending the outcome of the board’s ruling on the charges against him. Recently, Rule’s practice was voted “Best Vet Clinic” in Ferndale by the local newspaper.