A Chester County veterinarian, whose medical license was suspended in May after animal cruelty charges were filed against him, appeared before a state board that will decide whether he will be allowed to continue to practice in Pennsylvania.
Tom Stevenson, of Twin Valley Veterinary Clinic in Honeybrook, was charged with animal cruelty after a March 10 incident at a Lancaster County kennel where a Pennsylvania SPCA agent and another witness said they saw him cut off a piece of a 9-week-old puppy's tail without anesthesia.
At a hearing before the State Board of Veterinary Medicine in Harrisburg on Thursday, state prosecutor Shawn Smith said Stevenson performed surgery in a filthy sink using unsterilized industrial scissors and scalded the poodle-mix puppy in the process.
"The conditions in the kennel were deplorable," said Smith. "He ran the sink water until it steamed and held the puppy under water while the puppy screamed."
Smith said Stevenson violated medical protocols by not prepping or cleaning his own hands, the instruments or the puppy and for failing to anesthetize the dog or to properly clean and bandage the wound. Smith said he then sold the puppy to undercover agent Tara Loller for $200.
He said Stevenson's license was suspended by the board because he presented a clear and immediate danger to public health and safety.
Defense attorney Joshua Autry said Stevenson was performing "first aid" on a tail that had been accidently severed by the kennel owner during grooming.
"The puppy was not screaming and not crying," said Autry in his opening statement. "His nerves had been severed."
Autry said Stevenson did not violate standards of care but rather was trying to prevent the dog from being further injured by cutting off the piece of tail that could have gotten caught in the wire cage bottom.
PSPCA officer Loller testified that she went to Country Lane Kennel in New Providence with Main Line Animal Rescue volunteer Helen Smith to investigate reports of severely neglected and injured dogs and reports of the illegal sale of prescription veterinary drugs.
They were not expecting to see Stevenson, who, prior to his suspension, was the veterinarian of records for dozens of the largest commercial kennels in the state and as such, responsible for the health of thousands of puppies and breeding dogs. Loller said the puppy was covered in feces and the tail was oozing blood when she held it.
"She was extremely injured," said Loller. "She was screaming bloody murder, yelping frantically and trying to get away, to get out of a painful situation."
Helen Smith, who was outside when Stevenson began the procedure, said she also heard the loud crying and came into the room. "You couldn't hear for the screaming," she said.
Rachel Lee, who was medical director for the PSPCA at the time, testified that when she examined the dog several hours later in Philadelphia, she saw wounds that were consistent with "thermal injury" or burning, and that she immediately began a course of antibiotics and pain medication.
Brian Harpster, a veterinarian and former member of the state veterinary board, testified that after reviewing the records he concluded that Stevenson had not acted "in accordance with standards of veterinary care," including failure to provide "minimal standards of care."
Stevenson, who testified in his own defense, said he didn't think he needed to anesthetize the puppy because of her "non reaction" during the time he spent cleaning the wound area.
"I wouldn't classify it as surgery, more like removing a broken toenail," said Stevenson of the procedure. "I performed first aid for an animal that was injured."
The toughest scrutiny came from the members of the State Board of Veterinary Medicine who asked repeatedly why Stevenson had failed to follow established veterinary protocols before, during and after performing surgery on the puppy.
"If you knew veterinary drugs were available, why didn't you look to see what was available? " asked board member Juanita McGhee Monteiro of Harleysville.
As about one dozen former clients - most of them Amish or Mennonite - looked on, Stevenson said he did not think the wound was serious enough to warrant any immediate treatment beyond topical application of some Neosporin ointment.
Monteiro asked Stevenson why he had not even taken the puppy's temperature and how it was that he could have certified the injured puppy as healthy for sale.
Stevenson said he did not have a thermometer with him and that he instructed Loller to immediately take the puppy to a veterinarian.
Board member Steven Radbill of Philadelphia, asked Stevenson whether he even carried a medical bag with him to the kennel. Stevenson said he did not on that occasion because he was at the kennel to conduct a USDA veterinary inspection and hadn't planned on performing any exams or procedures.
Prosecutor Shawn Smith also asked Stevenson whether he'd spoken to an investigator about allegedly performing a euthanasia after his license was suspended to which Stevenson replied, "yes."
There is no timetable for the board's decision on whether Stevenson's license will be revoked, said board spokeswoman Leslie Amoros.
Stevenson is scheduled to appear Wednesday before Lancaster County Magisterial District Justice Stuart Mylin in Quarryville on criminal cruelty charges connected to the incident. Cruelty charges against kennel owner Sam King were dismissed by Mylin in July.
Addendum: The puppy, now known as Cassie, is living happily with an adoptive family and appears to suffer no ill effects from the tail injury.