I-Team: Veterinarians still treating animals after serious violations

Few pet owners know how to check vet's background

TAMPA - How much do you know about your veterinarian?  The vast majority of vets have clean records, but the I-Team did uncover local veterinarians who are still practicing after being punished for serious violations.

The I-Team reviewed dozens of veterinarian complaints obtained through a public records request with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Through those records, we contacted Jan Restivo, an animal lover who agreed to speak with us in the hopes of helping other pet owners.

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Jan says her beloved parrot Roger unexpectedly became sick last year. She took the bird to Dr. Jonathan Rubinstein, an expert in birds. Shortly after Roger was brought in, she learned that he had died after having a seizure.

"I loved Roger, and I wanted him to have more than 2 years of a happy life," Restivo said.

Devastated, Jan paid for a necropsy report from the state lab to uncover Roger's cause of death. Dr. Rubinstein sent tissue samples to the state lab and provided Jan with a report, which suggested that Roger had inflammation in his brain that could have played a role in his death.

But Jan says the report raised several red flags. First, she says it took several requests to Dr. Rubinstein to get a copy of the report. Second, the report didn't have a state logo and didn't look "official" to her. She requested the report directly from the state lab and found that it didn't match what she received from her vet.

She says the report Dr. Rubinstein gave her included information on brain samples and noted brain inflammation. However, the official state lab told her they didn't receive any brain samples from Dr. Rubinstein, and this was noted in the report. She believes Dr. Rubinstein faked the report and made up a cause of death.

"I don't know why he did it. I only know that he did it," Restivo said.

Without admitting guilt, Dr. Rubinstein reached a settlement with the Florida Board of Veterinary Medicine. He got a fine and a year of probation, and is currently practicing with CountryChase Veterinary Clinic in Tampa.

"I don't think it's right," Restivo said.

He's not the only local vet still practicing after being disciplined for a serious allegation. Dr. Larry Britt, who treats animals at a clinic in Plant City, was investigated by the state for allegedly faking a horse's death so he could keep the horse for himself.  He was also accused of refusing to treat a dying horse because he was angry another vet had been called to the scene first.

Dr. Britt also reached a settlement without admitting guilt, and was given a fine and probation. We did speak with Dr. Britt and Dr. Rubinstein. Both told us their cases were resolved and they did not wish to comment.

In our review of complaints, we found Florida's Board of Veterinary Medicine hasn't revoked the license of any veterinarian in the last 9 years. Board members refused to respond to any of our questions about their disciplinary process.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which licenses veterinarians, did respond to our requests:

"We conduct an inspection of every veterinarian establishment every two years. We check to make sure everyone is properly licensed and that the establishment is clean and orderly," said spokesperson Sandi Poreda.

We spoke with Dr. Don Morgan, a veterinarian for 50 years and president-elect of the Florida Veterinary Medical Association, which represents the veterinary medicine industry. He says he believes there is enough oversight of veterinarians.

"I think enough is being done," Dr. Morgan said.

He also pointed out that less than one percent of veterinarians face any disciplinary action.

"I think a huge portion of the veterinary profession is very reputable and does a real good job," Dr. Morgan said.

The lesson, Jan Restivo believes, is for pet owners to do their homework. Your pets can't tell you what goes on at the vet's office, so it's up to you to research your veterinarian.

"You cannot blindly just trust. You have to do a little bit of research," Restivo said.

But most pet owners aren't aware of the resources out there to check a veterinarian's background.

Check your veterinarian's license:
Just type a name into the search and you should see details on your vet's license, and whether they have faced any disciplinary action from the state.

But unlike California, Colorado, and many other states, Florida's website does not provide the details on what the veterinarian was accused of. To get that, you'll need to put in a public records request.

Request Specific records from DBPR:

Call (850) 487-1395 or by mail at:

DBPR Customer Contact Center
1940 North Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1027

Word of mouth is still the best way to research a veterinarian. Vets we spoke with also recommend talking to customers who have been with the vet for a long time.

Have a tip for the I-Team? Contact us at iteam@abcactionnews.com.

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