Case Snapshot
Case ID: 12905
Classification: Other
Animal: dog (non pit-bull)
More cases in Sumner County, TN
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Person(s) in animal care
Tags: vet, euthanasia, heart stick
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Attorneys/Judges
Prosecutor(s): Thomas Dean, Ray Whitley
Defense(s): John Pellegrin


For more information about the Interactive Animal Cruelty Maps, see the map notes.



Friday, Nov 2, 2007

County: Sumner

Charges: Misdemeanor
Disposition: Alleged

Alleged: William Baber, DVM

Case Updates: 9 update(s) available

Some residents of Sumner County are demanding a vet with the city's animal shelter be fired.

Undercover video shows Dr. Bill Baber performing inhumane and illegal euthanizations on animals.

Concerned citizens and animal lovers plan to protest in Gallatin Monday afternoon, begging the city government to take action.

Peggy Olea said it is hard for her to even look at the animal control building, tucked away down a long gravel road in Gallatin.

That is where Olea said unspeakable animal cruelty has been taking place for the past three years, under the direction of Dr. Baber.

She said, "I watched some of it, and after a certain point you just can't watch it anymore."

Undercover video obtained through a privately funded investigation by some concerned citizens who wanted to figure out just what was going on inside shows dogs being held up by their fur while Dr. Baber sticks lethal injections into their hearts, one after the other.

This practice of euthanizing animals is against local, state and national law.

Animal shelter worker Tabetha Varvaro said, "The first day I worked there, he euthanized a dog outside and just did a heart punch with him."

Varvaro worked with Dr. Baber for eight months and said from the beginning, witnessed countless acts of aggression and cruelty against animals.

Varvaro said at first, she didn't question Dr. Baber but quickly noticed a pattern with his behavior.

She said, "I thought a lot of times he was being kind of aggressive. He didn't weigh the animals before he gave them sedatives, so sometimes, one time a dog woke up in surgery with only one ear cut off and was screaming."

Olea and dozens of other advocates plan on protesting Monday.

The protest will be held at 2:15 p.m. Monday.

News 2 attempted to contact Dr. Baber. Phone calls were not returned.

Dr. Baber is still in charge of the Sumner County Animal Shelter and is expected to be at work Monday morning.


Case Updates

A Tennessee veterinarian accused of improperly euthanizing dogs and cats was fined about $7,000 but kept his license to practice.

The Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners placed Dr. William Baber's license on a five-year minimum probationary period, which started April 24, and fined him $2,000.

In addition, the Gallatin practitioner was sentenced in criminal court July 18 to a two-year probationary period under a pre-trial diversion program and 200 hours of public service, said District Attorney General Ray Whitley. And he was required to make $5,000 in contributions to two private animal shelters.

The veterinarian's criminal record could be expunged at the end of the two-year period, Whitley said.

Dr. Baber had been criminally charged with 12 misdemeanor counts, which included accusations he administered intracardial injections of sodium pentobarbital to fully conscious dogs and cats.

Other charges accused him of falsifying records, cruelty to animals and failing to verify animals' deaths. State documents say the actions took place between 2005 and 2007, when Dr. Baber was working under contract with the Sumner County Rabies and Animal Control Agency.

Dr. Baber, who is now strictly in private practice, said some of his accusers were trying to make positive changes in county facilities. But he said the regulatory and criminal proceedings against him were the result of a witch hunt and personal vendettas over past feuds.

The veterinarian said he has lived a nightmare since November.

Dr. Baber said the state regulatory board never notified him or other veterinarians of the 2001 change in state law that banned intracardial injections on fully conscious animals. He said the same euthanasia methods were used by the county for about two decades.

"My attorney and I had a signed affidavit with 17 veterinarians in the area who said they were unaware of this change in the law," Dr. Baber said.

And Dr. Baber said the charges and board hearings could have been avoided.

"If you had a problem with it, why didn't you say something to me?" Dr. Baber said.

Dr. Baber's case drew widespread attention after a Nashville TV news station aired video of him administering the injections to euthanize animals.

Dr. C. Maben Thompson, president of the Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, said testimony before the board indicated a private investigator contacted a former shelter employee and helped him outfit a coffee cup with a hidden camera. That camera captured the video that was given to news media.

Dr. Thompson said he thinks Dr. Baber's case would have been better handled if the former employee notified shelter management of problems. He said management could have told Dr. Baber to change his procedures or terminated his contract.

"I don't think there was ever intent by Dr. Baber-this is my personal opinion-to harm those animals," Dr. Thompson said. "And he has suffered a great deal."

The board consensus was that Dr. Baber had fallen into lax procedures but otherwise had an exemplary career, and it was not necessary to take his license, the board president said.

Whitley said the veterinarian's prosecution has led to increased scrutiny of substandard animal control facilities and practices statewide. And he said some other veterinarians have admitted they didn't previously know the laws regarding euthanasia.

"It's certainly raised the consciousness of the whole state as far as how animals are treated," Whitley said.

The $5,000 in criminal court fines will be split between Friends of Hannah of Gallatin and the Sumner County Humane Society of Hendersonville, both of which have helped county officials find homes for abused animals, Whitley said.

Suspend, reinstate, repeat
Filings by the Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners indicate Dr. Baber received a contract in 2005 to practice at the Sumner County Rabies and Animal Control Agency. The contract was terminated when accusations arose in November 2007.

Tennessee state health authorities summarily suspended Dr. Baber's license the same month. The board's filing for that suspension contains harsh assessments of Dr. Baber's actions, accusing him of engaging in "unprofessional, unethical and incompetent conduct" and practicing veterinary medicine in a way that reflects unfavorably on the profession.

It says he "engaged in gross malpractice or a pattern of a continued or repeated malpractice, ignorance, negligence, incompetence and dishonesty."

Dr. Baber said that is simply inaccurate.

"I'm not unprofessional," Dr. Baber said. "I know what I'm doing."

In addition to the improper euthanasia charge, the November suspension order says Dr. Baber left animals unattended until their deaths and failed to ensure each animal was dead before incineration.

His license was reinstated after a few days and a determination he was not a threat to public health and safety. But it was again suspended Dec. 19, pending a hearing April 24.

Andrea Turner, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Health, said Dr. Baber complied with requirements of the board, leading to reinstatement of his license in April.

Laws and guidelines
Dr. Thompson said changes in law that are noted in state newsletters to veterinarians can go unnoticed or be forgotten by practitioners who work long hours or aren't immediately affected. He said private practice veterinarians may not note rule changes for animal shelter work, even though they could later receive contracts with shelters.

"The amount of information that has to be disseminated on our whole practice act is very difficult for our veterinarians to keep up with," Dr. Thompson said. "With that said, there is a format with which the information is disseminated."

Tennessee state legislators changed the language of the law regarding euthanasia methods earlier this year. But the change, which was signed into law March 18, only clarified the rules, rather than changing them.

The law already said it was illegal to inject sodium pentobarbital intracardially in a fully conscious animal. The adjustment changed language later in the same statute that said a nonlivestock animal "may be tranquilized" before any form of euthanasia.

Tennessee House Rep. Debra Maggart said she wrote the bill after talking with attorneys, prosecutors, and police who were unclear whether Dr. Baber broke the law. She said the new law makes it clear that animal control or shelter workers in Tennessee have to sedate animals before they perform euthanasia through intracardial injection.

Maggart said the state also passed in May a law that requires state licensing boards to inform members whenever there is a change in law that affects their professions. The boards decide how to notify members, she said.

"This was a direct result of what happened to Dr. Baber," Maggart said.

Under Tennessee code, section 44-17-303 of the Non-Livestock Animal Humane Death Act, veterinarians can perform intravenous or intraperitoneal injections of sodium pentobarbital without the sedation or anesthetization restrictions of intracardial injections. They can also introduce the substance in a solution or powder added to food.

The AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia state that intracardiac injection "must only be used if the animal is heavily sedated, unconscious or anesthetized." The AVMA also provides links to state rules and regulations at www.avma.org. (View the AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia PDF)
Source: AVMA JAVMA News - Sept 2008
Update posted on Sep 2, 2008 - 10:44PM 
Veterinarian Dr. William Baber walked out of a Sumner county courtroom Thursday, ending a very unwanted time in the public eye. A hidden camera caught Dr. Baber euthanizing dogs at the Sumner County animal shelter last year using a procedure that was not allowed under state law.

Dr. Baber was charged with 12 misdemeanor counts, including cruelty to animals; but Thursday, the judge gave Dr. Baber pre-trial diversion, meaning it will be expunged from his record if he follows the rules of his probation.

"He's just glad this whole chapter of his life is coming to an end, and he can just move on," said Dr. Baber's attorney, John Pellegrin.

Among other things, Dr. Baber must perform 200 hours of unpaid public service work. He must also pay a $5,000 contribution to two different agencies in Sumner County which help with the rescue and care of animals in distress.

Earlier this year, the State Veterinarian Board reinstated Dr. Baber's license.
Source: Newschannel 5 - July 21, 2008
Update posted on Jul 21, 2008 - 1:40PM 
The Sumner County veterinarian whose license was suspended amid allegations he was illegally euthanizing animals is now facing charges.

Following an investigation by the Sumner County Sheriff's Office, Dr. William Baber is facing 12 misdemeanor counts.

The charges include animal cruelty, violating state euthanasia laws as well as falsifying of government documents.

Thomas Dean, Assistant District Attorney, said, "On the log books, Dr. Baber put that the animals were all put down, the dogs were all put down by the IV method. Intravenous, it was actually intracardial for most of the animals.

Dr. Baber is seen on hidden camera video performing intracardiac euthanasia on cats and dogs at the Sumner County Animal Shelter.

The district attorney's office is now prosecuting Baber because the heart shot is illegal, unless the animal is heavily sedated.

"We thought there was unreasonable pain and suffering to the animals in the way this procedure was done," said Dean.

According to the affidavit prepared by the Sumner County Sheriff's Office, Dr. Baber injected the cats and dogs and then placed them into an incinerator without verification of their death.

Peggy Olea is an animal advocate who arranged for the hidden camera video after hearing what was going on at the shelter.

She feels the case sets an important precedent.

"The awareness that this is happening all over the country and that he be aware that people aren't going to stand for this anymore,' said Olea.

Last month, the Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medicine decided to postpone the decision on whether to revoke Dr. Baber's license.

Instead, board members handed Baber five years probation and a $2,000 fine.

The board will make a decision on Dr. Baber's license in April.
Source: WKRN - Jan 3, 2008
Update posted on Jan 4, 2008 - 4:27PM 
The veterinarian accused of illegally euthanizing animals in Sumner County will have to wait until April to learn whether or not he will be able to practice veterinary medicine again.

The Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medicine decided to postpone the decision on whether to revoke Dr. William Baber's license Thursday night.

Instead, board members handed Baber five years probation and a $2,000 fine.

Dr. Baber, a private veterinarian, was hired to euthanize animals at the Sumner County animal shelter.

He was suspended after medical examiners with the Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medicine saw Baber inject animals, directly in the heart.

The method is illegal in Tennessee unless the animal is heavily sedated.

Thursday, Dr. Baber maintained he did not know he was breaking any laws.

"I don't know what else could have been done," he said. "If I had known about the stature change, that would have solved a lot of this but I didn't and as a result, this has come about."

When a board member asked if he thought he had treated the animals humanly, Dr. Baber replied, "Yes I do."

Dr. Baber said he is unsure whether he will appeal Thursday's punishment.

The Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medicine will make a decision on Dr. Baber's license in April.
Source: WKRN - Dec 13, 2007
Update posted on Jan 4, 2008 - 4:25PM 
A hearing Thursday could determine if a Sumner County veterinarian can continue to practice.

Dr. William Baber is a private veterinarian, hired to euthanize animals at the Sumner County shelter.

The Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners suspended Baber's license after it reviewed video footage of his practices, but then temporarily re-instated his license in November.

Baber is accused of euthanizing animals in the heart without anesthesia.

The video shows Baber injecting animals directly in the heart.

Dr. Baber cannot perform animal euthanasia.
Source: WKRN - Dec 13, 2007
Update posted on Jan 4, 2008 - 4:25PM 
Sumner County is forced to limit responses to animal control calls while officials look for a veterinarian to work at the animal control shelter.

Earlier this month, the veterinarian contracted to work at the shelter, Dr. Bill Baber, lost his license and his job with the county.

The animals, however, continue to come and the space is limited.

Hank Thompson, Sumner County executive, said, "The real bad dogs that were causing problems, we will get those, but the ones that are just in somebody's yard and the neighbor complaining we've got to back off on those. We've got to just go after the extreme dangerous situations and that's what we're doing."

Peggy Olea, animal advocate, said, "The concern at the shelter is there is no vet there currently to help any of the animals. They have not appointed a new vet. The pound is in limbo."

County officials have met with the Humane Society and another respected area vet, getting recommendations for a new doctor for the shelter.

In the meantime, a certified euthanasia technician that runs a local animal rescue organization is stopping by once a week.

"We're talking to two people. We feel pretty good," said Thompson. "I'm hoping in the next month, we'll get it straightened out and get it back to capacity."

Thompson said eventually, he'd like to see a whole new shelter, a better shelter for Sumner County but first, the need a new vet.

Next month, Dr. Baber will learn if he can keep his license. The State Veterinary Board will meet on December 13.

The members will also decide if Baber should face penalties.
Source: WKRN - Nov 13, 2007
Update posted on Jan 4, 2008 - 4:24PM 
The Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners ruled Wednesday to temporarily suspend the license of Sumner County veterinarian Dr. Bill Baber.

The hearing is a result of undercover video showing Dr. Baber injecting dogs and cats with a lethal shot to the heart, without anesthesia.

The board heard from three witnesses Wednesday, one of which was the trustee who taped the undercover video while working at the Sumner County animal shelter.

All four members of the board present at the Wednesday's meeting said Dr. Baber's actions are in no way in compliance with the state's laws.

The meeting was open to the public and many community members attended.

One said, "I hope the other ones will learn from it. I hope it'll start waking people up… They'll go out and spay their dogs, take care of their dogs. It's going to cold tonight, take your dogs in. There are a lot of things people don't do with dogs around here."

Dr. Baber will now be even the opportunity for an informal hearing within the next seven days. He will be able to come, with legal representation, and present his side of the case.

For there, he will have the opportunity for due process in the form of a trial.

Baber has already been terminated from the Sumner County animal shelter.
Source: WKRN - Nov 7, 2007
Update posted on Jan 4, 2008 - 4:23PM 
The veterinarian accused of unethical euthanization in a Sumner county animal shelter is no longer working for the county.

Sumner County executive Hank Thompson said veterinarian Bill Baber will no longer euthanize animals at the county shelter.

The decision comes after undercover video surfaced, showing Baber injecting dogs and cats with a lethal shot to the heart, without anesthesia.

"I didn't like what I saw at all," Thompson said.

Thompson admits he received complaints earlier this year about the heart shot, known as intracardiac euthanasia.

"I called him and told him, I understand you're using this procedure, but I don't want you to use that anymore. I assumed that he wasn't," Thompson said.

The procedure is illegal in the state of Tennessee unless the animal is sedated.

Baber confirmed he is no longer working for the Sumner County animal shelter but was unaware of the latest development, that the county sheriff, along with the district attorney's office, is now investigating him.

Protesters gathered Tuesday outside Baber's clinic.

Marcie Hudson said she no longer brings her dog here because of what she saw.

She's glad the county removed Baber from the shelter, but says it's not enough.

"I'm relieved that they did that, but it's not only his fault, it's their fault too," she said.

"We had a problem, a mistake was made, and we corrected it," said Thompson.

Baber is now under investigation.

The Sumner County sheriff's office has the original video and will turn their findings over to the district attorney's office.

Wednesday, the Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners is holding a hearing on whether to strip Baber of his license to practice veterinary medicine.
Source: WKRN - Nov 6, 2007
Update posted on Jan 4, 2008 - 4:22PM 
County veterinarian to be fired after some undercover video came to light.

The undercover video, obtained through a privately funded investigation by some concerned citizens, was taken inside the Sumner County Animal Shelter and shows Dr. Bill Baber performing inhumane and illegal euthanizations on animals.

On Monday, dozens of protestors lined up in front of the Sumner County Executive Building.

Protestor Wally Keisler said, "I'm out here trying to make a difference. This animal abuse has got to stop."

Protestor Maureen Hager said, "When I saw the tape of those dogs, I just started crying… I can't believe that any human being would do that."

The sign outside the Sumner County Animal Shelter said the pound is "closed for viewing" and no one would talk to News 2.

News 2 found Dr. Baber at his private clinic but he refused to do an interview.

Protestors told News 2 no one in the county is listening and Monday, signed a petition to have Dr. Baber investigated.

Sumner County District Attorney Ray Whitley said his office has not received any evidence against Dr. Baber and has had no contact with those questioning him.

"The first we knew about this situation was when the televisions stations got a hold of the tape. Before that, we hadn't had any complaints," he said.

Whitley said if necessary, his office will pursue an investigation.

At that point, he said he will determine whether the Gallatin Police Department or the Sumner County Sheriff's Department handles the investigation.

Whitley said they are not taking the abuse allegations lightly and looking into the matter.
Source: WKRN - Nov 5, 2007
Update posted on Jan 4, 2008 - 4:19PM 

References

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