The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Disciplinary Committee has suspended a London-based veterinary surgeon for six months while finding no misconduct against another in a hearing regarding the taking of two newborn puppies from their owner.
The hearing for the two respondents – Dr Zahra Tahaneem Rafiq and Oscar Perez Maillo – took place between Monday 29 April to Wednesday 8 May and concerned an incident that took place at the Vets Now Huyton premises in Liverpool.
There were two charges against Dr Rafiq. The first charge being that on 2 or 3 December 2017, shortly after a litter of puppies was delivered by caesarean to a French Bulldog named Lila, she took one of the puppies away from the practice with the intention of not returning it to the owner. In doing so, she was “dishonest, misleading and had not acted in the best interest of the puppy’s welfare”. Another puppy was taken away by an animal care assistant who was also working at Vets Now Huyton on the same night.
The second charge against Dr Rafiq regarded the fact she had told her employer that the puppy she had taken from the practice had died in the car when she had been driving home, although the puppy was still alive at that stage.
There was one charge against Perez for writing in the clinical records that Lila had given birth to four live puppies when she had six; that he had only discharged four of the six puppies to the owner; that he knew that his colleagues intended to remove or had removed the puppies; that he had failed to prevent the removal of the puppies and had failed to report to a colleague the removal of the puppies.
The charge further stated that he was dishonest, misleading, did not act in the best interests of the puppies’ welfare and failed to keep accurate clinical records.
At the outset of the hearing, Dr Rafiq admitted in full the charges against her and accepted that she had acted dishonestly. Perez admitted some of the charges against him including that he had made the false clinical record, had discharged four rather than six puppies and had failed to keep accurate clinical records, however he denied any knowledge of the intention to remove puppies and denied that his conduct had been misleading or dishonest.
The Committee found that his actions were unintentionally misleading regarding the clinical records and the discharge of the incorrect number of puppies. While it was concluded that Perez’s conduct fell below the expected professional standards, it did not constitute serious professional misconduct. As a result, no further action was taken against him.
As for Dr Rafiq, the Committee considered that her actions involved no financial gain, it was a single and isolated incident, she had no previous adverse findings, she had demonstrated genuine remorse and she had made admissions at an early stage. Therefore, she was given a six-month suspension order and removed from the register during the suspension.
Ian Arundale, who chaired the Committee, said: “The Committee considered the sanction of suspension was proportionate in the circumstances of this case where there was supporting evidence that Dr Rafiq was a competent and well-regarded veterinary surgeon.
“It considered the positive testimonial evidence given… and that she was held in high regard by her current employers who were aware of the admitted misconduct, were significant factors in deciding that a suspension order was the proportionate sanction.”
Dr Laura Playforth, head of veterinary standards at Vets Now, added: “In December 2017, a dog was brought into our out-of-hours vet clinic in Liverpool to have an emergency Caesarean section. The pet owner took home four puppies. It was subsequently brought to our attention by one of the members of staff on shift that a further two puppies from the litter were taken from the clinic by our staff. One of these puppies was later returned; the other sadly died.
“We are extremely sorry about what happened, especially to our client and their pets. As soon as we were made aware of the allegations, we acted immediately. We carried out a thorough investigation to establish the cause of the incident; all staff members directly involved were suspended pending investigation, and the two found responsible were subsequently dismissed. We also reported the matter to the police and referred the veterinary surgeons involved to our regulatory body, the RCVS.
“We have a duty of care to every animal we look after, and the most important thing to us is the welfare of the pets in our care. What I can guarantee is, we will do everything in our power to prevent this from ever happening again.
“I want to reassure pet owners that this is an isolated incident. We have almost 600 vets and vet nurses working for us up and down the country, working tirelessly to help animals in their greatest time of need. In my 20 years as a vet, I’ve never seen anything like this case.”