Case Snapshot
Case ID: 15395
Classification: Mutilation/Torture
Animal: dog (non pit-bull)
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Person(s) in animal care
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Tuesday, Mar 10, 2009

County: Lancaster

Charges: Summary
Disposition: Civil penalty imposed

Defendant/Suspect: Thomas F. Stevenson, DVM

Case Updates: 3 update(s) available

She doesn't look like a dedicated undercover operative, this 76-year-old animal lover with arthritic knees.

But she is. Now Helen Smith is expected to provide key testimony against a veterinarian who serves some of Pennsylvania's big dog-breeding kennels and who has been charged with animal cruelty on allegations that he mutilated a puppy's tail.

"I seem harmless," Smith said yesterday, describing how she gets around with a cane. In fact, "I'm not harmless at all."

At 2 p.m. March 10, she went to Country Lane Kennels in New Providence, Lancaster County, to try to acquire a one-eyed dog she had seen. There, accompanied by an undercover officer from the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, she unexpectedly witnessed the act that led to the first-degree misdemeanor charge against Thomas F. Stevenson of the Twin Valley Veterinary Clinic in Honey Brook.

A Lancaster County police criminal complaint states that Stevenson treated a 9-week-old mixed poodle's already injured and bleeding tail by "soaking it in scalding water" and then cutting it off with shears "without sedation or prior numbing of the tail."

Stevenson could not be reached for comment yesterday; messages left at his clinic were not returned. If he is convicted of animal cruelty, his license could be suspended or revoked.

"The dog was screaming, and screaming, and screaming," Smith said yesterday. "You could see the blood. You could see the exposed bone."

Smith is the mother of Bill Smith, founder of Main Line Animal Rescue in Chester Springs, which has strived to improve conditions for thousands of dogs in Pennsylvania's puppy mills. As Bill Smith began to be more recognized, making it hard for him to get into kennels, his mother started taking his place.

Helen Smith has been infiltrating kennels for close to a decade, scoping out conditions, rescuing animals, and informing authorities of what she finds. Many places she visits are feces-laden warehouses where dogs are confined in small pens.

But long experience did not prepare her for what she said she saw March 10.

Smith had gone to Country Lane Kennels, owned by Samuel E. King, to check on a dog she had often noticed tied up outside. The dog was a brown-and-white mixed bulldog, dirty, with an injury that had claimed an eye.

Smith and the undercover SPCA officer were walking through the kennel, she said, when "I heard this screaming. I can't tell you - I almost passed out."

She saw King and Stevenson holding a filthy puppy under scalding water as the vet cut off the tail, she said.

When it was over, Smith said, she asked whether she could buy the dog - paying $200 and creating a receipt that could be used as evidence. She wrapped the dog in a towel and took the bleeding animal to another vet's office, where surgery was performed on its tail, she said.

The affidavit states that King said he had cut the puppy's tail while grooming it the previous day. However, the officer wrote that she had seen no evidence that the puppy had been groomed. Its hair was long and matted with feces, and the bleeding wound was covered with feces and hair, the officer wrote.

King, like Stevenson, was charged with cruelty to animals. He also could not be reached for comment yesterday. His home phone number is unlisted, and a message left at Country Lane Kennels was not returned.

Volunteers from Main Line Animal Rescue returned days later and bought the one-eyed dog.

Stevenson is the vet of record for most of the largest kennels in Pennsylvania, responsible for thousands of dogs, according to state records. He is also the vet of record for some of New Jersey's largest pet stores.

Libby Williams, founder of New Jersey Consumers Against Pet Shop Abuse, said she had received dozens of complaints in recent years from people who bought sick dogs allegedly examined by Stevenson.

The veterinarian also was named in a New Jersey consumer-fraud lawsuit against Joyce and Raymond Stoltzfus of CC Pets, one of the largest puppy brokers in Pennsylvania. The New Jersey suit alleges Stevenson provided CC Pets with fraudulent health certificates.

"We accused him of conspiring with the kennel operation to conduct substandard or nonexistent veterinary exams on dogs," said Garen Meguerian, the attorney for plaintiffs Louis and Stephanie Ostrander.

Lancaster veterinarian Tom Gemmill filed a complaint against Stevenson with Pennsylvania's veterinary medical board after serving as an expert witness for the Ostranders. He said Stevenson failed to keep records on the dogs he examined, a violation of the veterinary practice act.

That complaint is pending.

Helen Smith said yesterday that, given the publicity surrounding this case, her undercover career was probably over. The retired mother of three will continue to volunteer for Main Line Animal Rescue - and to follow her favorite TV show, Law & Order.

Smith complimented the work of the SPCA, but said other regulatory agencies should be doing more to end deplorable conditions at puppy mills.

"The state should be doing this," she said, "but they're not. That's why volunteers have to get involved. If the inspectors won't do their jobs, then somebody has to help these dogs."

Case Updates

A Chester County veterinarian charged with cruelty to animals here will be allowed to practice medicine again.

The state Board of Veterinary Medicine has granted a conditional license to Dr. Tom Stevenson, who was convicted of animal abuse last year for removing the dangling tail of a puppy with unsterilized tools and without anesthesia.

The board temporarily suspended Stevenson's license "" and then temporarily reinstated it in June "" after an incident at Samuel King's Country Lane Kennels, 223 Refton Road, New Providence.

In its final adjutication of the case Oct. 19, the board ruled that Stevenson may resume practice at his Twin Valley Veterinary Clinic in Honey Brook as long as he obeys all laws and promptly reports address or phone number changes "" and legal claims against him or his business.

According to court papers, Stevenson was fined $1,000 as a deterrent to future misconduct by him and others.

Stevenson may petition the board for full reinstatement after completion of the probationary period that begins Nov. 18.

The Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals revoked King's kennel operating license in March 2009.

The case arose that month when King asked Stevenson to treat a poodle-mix pup whose tail had been partially severed in a grooming accident.

The veterinarian used an unsterilized scissors to snip away the rest of the tissue holding the tail, according to newspaper accounts.

An undercover humane police officer posing as a customer reported that the dog yelped in pain when Stevenson washed and cut the appendage.

Stevens disputed hurting the animal and contended that the officer did not witness his actions.

In December 2009, District Judge Stuart Mylin fined Stevenson $750 and found him guilty of a summary count of cruelty to animals.

Lancaster County Judge Howard F. Knisely upheld the conviction on appeal in August.

Stevenson faced the possible permanent loss of his license.

The board rebuked the veterinarian for showing the "customer" a "shocking disregard" by advising her to take a potentially seriously injured puppy to another vet.

But it ruled that Stevenson's conduct appeared to be "ordinary negligence, not gross negligence."

A message sent to Stevenson's fax machine was not returned Saturday night.

Animal advocate Helen Ebersole said she was mystified and disturbed by what she sees as lenient treatment of Stevenson.

"I sat in on the court proceedings," said Ebersole, co-founder and president of Lancaster-based United Against Puppy Mills. "The system was working."

"How [the board] can negate what was valid testimony is incredible."
Source: - Nov 7, 2010
Update posted on Nov 7, 2010 - 12:53AM 
On August 27, 2010, a judge upheld the guilty verdict of an area veterinarian who was convicted of cruelty to animals for cutting off a dog's dangling tail last year.

"He acted unreasonably, and was utterly indifferent" to the dog's pain or the risk of infection, Lancaster County Judge Howard F. Knisely said, in making his ruling.

Dr. Tom Stevenson, of Twin Valley Veterinary Clinic in Honey Brook, had testified he merely was offering first aid to the dog, which he said did not react when he used a pair of sewing scissors to cut a small piece of skin that anchored the dog's dangling tail.

But an undercover humane police officer who said she witnessed the act said Stevenson held the dog under steaming water and cut away at its tail while it yelped in pain during her visit to a New Providence kennel last March.

In December, District Judge Stuart Mylin found Stevenson guilty of one summary count of cruelty to animals and fined him $750. Friday's hearing was an appeal of that decision.

The state Board of Veterinary Medicine had temporarily suspended Stevenson's license but later restored it. It has not made a final decision about his license.

Stevenson declined comment afterward, but his attorney, Jeff Conrad, said the veterinarian was disappointed in the judge's decision. Stevenson could appeal the decision to the state Superior Court, but has not decided if he will, Conrad said.

Stevenson fought the conviction, Conrad said, because, "It hurts professionally."

The prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Christine Wilson, said Stevenson acted inappropriately when he treated the dog.

The verdict followed a sometimes contentious hearing " during which Knisely banged on his bench and angrily yelled at Conrad, saying, "Knock off the dramatization, Jeffrey."

During testimony, Tara Loller said she witnessed the incident in March 2009, when she went to Samuel King's kennel in New Providence to purchase a dog while working undercover for the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She chose a white, poodle-mix puppy with a tail injury.

King told Loller he accidentally had injured the dog the day before while grooming it, Loller said.

In her presence, Loller said, King handed the dog to Stevenson, who was at the kennel that day to do an inspection. The veterinarian turned on a sink at the kennel and let the water run until it was visibly steaming, Loller said.

Stevenson held the dog's tail under the running water and began "picking pieces off the tail," Loller said.

"She was yelping," Loller said of he dog.

Stevenson then grabbed a pair of scissors and, without washing the dog or his hands or the scissors, made six cuts to the dog's tail, rubbing the remaining stub with some kind of ointment, she said.

Stevenson gave a different description of what happened that day.

He said did not bring a medical bag to perform procedures when he arrived at the kennel to do inspections. But while there, King asked him to take a look at the injured puppy.

Stevenson said he held the dog's tail area under running water and started cleaning away "goo" so he could see it better. He saw the tail was hanging by a piece of tissue, and he told King the only way to treat the tail would be to snip off the dangling piece.

He said he scrubbed the dog's tail area with a disinfectant soap and then snipped it and rubbed some antibiotic ointment on it. Loller was not in the room when he did it, Stevenson said.

The dog did not react or make a sound, he said.

"I did what I did because I believed it was in the best interest of the puppy," Stevenson said.

The dog had a wound that could have gotten infected if it was not treated. Also, the puppy would have been more stressed if it was taken from its littermates and mothers to a clinic to be treated and possibly held overnight.

"The snipping was less than two seconds," he said.

"I was the veterinarian there," he said. "I made the best decision based on the situation I was presented with."

But in other testimony, Dr. Rachel Lee, medical director of the PSPCA, said the dog would have suffered pain when Stevenson snipped the tail. In her opinion, she said, the procedure should have been done under anesthesia, with proper sterilization and pain medication.
Source: - Aug 27, 2010
Update posted on Aug 30, 2010 - 3:22PM 
Stevenson is facing trial for an animal cruelty charge related to a surgical procedure he performed after King allegedly severed the dog's tail by accident March 9.

At a hearing in April, it was unsuccessfully argued that Stevenson appropriately treated the puppy's ailing tail just before Loller bought the dog March 10.

Stevenson testified at his preliminary hearing that he didn't amputate more of the puppy's tail, but only snipped away skin, dried blood and scab. He also denied Loller's charge that he held the dog's back end under steaming water before cutting it with scissors.

In May, Stevenson's license to practice veterinary medicine was suspended pending the outcome of a hearing before the state Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs.

Wilson said she expects Stevenson's trial to take place in September.
Source: Lancaster Online - June 6, 2008
Update posted on Jun 6, 2009 - 11:10PM 


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