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NH veterinarian: State board's discipline hearing unconstitutional

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 13. 2018 10:02AM

More than three dozen people attended a Board of Veterinary Medicine disciplinary hearing of Dr Deborah Kelloway, center, on Tuesday. 

A New Hampshire veterinarian goes before the state Board of Veterinary Care today, the first of two days of disciplinary hearings over complaints about her clinics and her controversial practice of prodding owners to surrender their pets if they can’t pay for their veterinary care.

In an interview late last week, Dr. Deborah Kelloway questioned the constitutionality of the veterinary board hearing. She said the board has never adopted a policy to address animal surrender. And she said the board works to protect veterinarians against someone, like herself, who posts her fees and undercuts prevailing prices.

“The vets (in New Hampshire) are mad at us because we’re doing so well. I’m so happy to have the public hear this,” said Kelloway, founder of the Advanced Veterinary Care emergency clinics in Manchester and Concord.

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. today at the Concord Center building at 10 Ferry St., Concord. A second day of hearings is scheduled for Thursday.

The 10-page notice of the hearings lays out several complaints against Kelloway. Four specific cases are listed, and in two of those cases Kelloway sought and obtained surrender of the pet before providing care.

In both cases, the owners did not have the money to pay for services, according to the notice. In one, the dog died a few days after surgery; in the other, Kelloway provided a $1,000 surgery and then adopted the cat out.

Kelloway said she offers surrender when an owner can’t afford a surgery and decides to euthanize the animal.

“The mentality of people (is) they’ll never pay for their pets. It becomes a burden on me,” she said.

In its complaint, the board wrote that it warned Kelloway in 2013 about surrender. The board said she could be in violation of veterinary ethics.

But the director of the New Hampshire Humane Society said she believes that other veterinarians seek surrender — either when an owner can’t afford a pet or the pet has behavioral issues.

“If there’s an understanding from the client that they’re willing to surrender the animal to the vet, that doesn’t break any code of conduct,” said Marylee Gorham, the director of the Laconia-based organization.

Kelloway said her two clinics employ eight veterinarians and have grown since she opened them. She said her practice handles probably 8,000 cases a year. On her website, she posts prices — $88 for an emergency exam and $290 for an ultrasound.

She said few other veterinarians offer prices so low, and she has become a threat to the competition.

“It’s worse than (a good-old-boy system),” she said about the board. “It’s really bad.”

Kelloway said she also believes the process against her is unfair.

The Attorney General’s office performs two roles today. Lawyers in the office will bring the case against Kelloway and will advise the Veterinary Board. In essence, she said, the same team is both prosecutor and judge.

“We have a system in the U.S. — we’ve got to have balancing forces. That’s why we have a Constitution,” she said. She believes the issue will only be resolved in federal court, but said she wants to move forward with today’s hearing on the merits.

Under state practice, the Attorney General’s Civil Bureau provides counsel to licensing boards. The administrative prosecution unit, which is part of the Consumer Protection Bureau, brings cases against license holders, said Matt Mavrogeorge, an assistant attorney general in the administrative prosecution unit.

“They (the Civil Bureau) are literally on a different floor and they’re walled off from us when it comes to an investigation and administrative prosecution before a licensing board,” Mavrogeorge said.

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