Judge recommends Alabama spay-neuter veterinarian be found not guilty after administrative hearing


Dr. Margaret Ferrell is touted as 'one of the best surgeons he has seen in 42 years' by expert witness, while dissenters continue to claim non-profit, low cost clinics are unfair competition that provide substandard care.

Dr. Margaret Ferrell, ASBVME board member and practicing veterinarian at Alabama Spay/Neuter in Irondale, Alabama, received a not guilty recommendation from Administrative Law Judge James Jerry Wood.Her attorney called her just before Christmas. "A huge wave of relief washed over me," Margaret Ferrell, DVM, says.

The Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (ASBVME) had charged Ferrell, the practicing veterinarian at Alabama Spay/Neuter in Irondale, Alabama, with 30 charges in an administrative complaint issue in July 2014. Charges ranged from violating the Veterinary Practice Act to presenting false information to the ASBVME to malpractice.

After the testimony of a baker's dozen-12 witnesses by the ASBVME and one by Ferrell's lawyers-Administrative Law Judge James Jerry Wood, appointed by the ASBVME, found Ferrell not guilty on 29 charges and dismissed the other altogether.

"I'm still walking on a cloud," Ferrell says. "We're over the moon with joy."

However, Ferrell's celebration has been limited. Despite the not-guilty ruling, the ASBVME still has to accept-or reject-Judge Wood's recommendation.

The anticipated backlash

In recent years, the ASBVME has been led by some of the most prominent voices against low-cost spay/neuter clinics in Alabama, citing an unfair advantage over private veterinary practices. The most public opponents, former ASBVME President Robert Pitman, DVM, and former ASBVME Vice President Ronnie Welch, DVM, however, no longer serve on the board. In fact, Ferrell took Pitman's seat when Gov. Robert Bentley recently appointed her to the board.

Pitman and Welch transfered their positions of influence against the clinics to the Alabama Veterinary Practice Owners Association (ALVPOA), which was created in 2012 solely to oppose the low-cost spay-neuter clinics in Alabama. A recent letter from the ALVPOA flatly rejects the recommendation of Judge Wood and urges Alabama veterinarians to contact present ASBVME members to express their concerns.

A key observation

Yet, it was the testimony of ASBVME witnesses Pitman, Welch and Robert Horne, DVM, against Ferrell that caused Judge Wood to essentially dismiss their opinions. None of them has ever observed Ferrell at work at Alabama Spay/Neuter, do examinations or surgeries. In fact, Pitman is the only one who has actually set foot in the clinic and he was there when Ferrell was not. Wood deemed their opinions that Ferrell's physical exams, pre- and postoperative procedures and care, and surgical techniques did not meet the standard of care in Alabama, were not credible. He wrote that he recommends the ASBVME "find Dr. Ferrell not guilty on all 29 remaining charges in this complaint because none of the charges has been established by the preponderance of the credible unbiased evidence presented in the hearing."

Ferrell says after inviting nearly every veterinarian she's met since 2010 to the clinic, she says less than 10 of her colleagues have ever taken her up on the offer. "I've invited them to come-nobody comes. They're busy. I get it."

However, when Phillip Bushby, DVM, MS, DACVS, Marcia Lane Endowed Chair of Humane Ethics and Animal Welfare, Department of Clinical Sciences at the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine, showed up unannounced to observe her in April last year, she couldn't have been more surprised. Or intimidated.

"In the spay-neuter world, he's a really well-known guy." In fact, he's a board-certified veterinary surgeon who specializes in spay-neuter procedures. He's taught at Mississippi State for 36 years. He speaks and educates on high-quality, high-volume spay-neuter techniques. "I felt like I was being tested for veterinary school all over again having him there," she says.

While the ASBVME's expert witnesses have not viewed Ferrell's work at the clinic, Bushby observed her and her staff for five or six hours and witnessed Ferrell handle 17 cases. The ruling document, under the testimony of Bushby says, "One needs to observe the surgery in order to properly comment on it. Other expert witnesses in this case are inconsistent in testifying about something they have not observed."

Bushby testified that, Ferrell is one of the best surgeons he has seen in 42 years. He contradicted the accusations of the board and its expert witnesses, saying Ferrell is well within the standard of care in the time she spends on a surgery, physical exams and post-operative care. "What Dr. Ferrell does is extremely high quality and exceeds national standards," he said, adding, "Dr. Ferrell's methods are very safe and used all over the country. Dr. Ferrell is not dangerous."

High-quality, high-volume techniques and hope

Despite the arguments of Pitman, Welch and Horne that high-volume techniques are substandard, Bushby testified that techniques like the "pedicle tie" that he teaches are safer and faster. He said more than half of the 30 veterinary schools in the United States that have a shelter medicine program teach high-quality, high-volume techniques.

Ferrell hopes as time goes on and veterinarians become more familiar with HQ techniques perspectives will change. "Maybe the issue will go away in a few years-maybe," she says.

Although it would be a rare occurrence for the board to reject the judge's not guilty ruling, Ferrell admits she's nervous. "A little bit. I won't lie. I'm nervous. Optimistic might be too strong," she says. After watching the ASBVME find her employer, Alabama Spay/Neuter veterinary practice owner William Weber, guilty on five of 10 charges this summer, it's hard to be optimistic. He is appealing the decision to the Circuit Court of Montgomery County with an expected court date in March.

So until she's told otherwise, Ferrell and her staff will enjoy the good news and hope it continues for Weber's appeal. "We were just glad to get some positive news," she says. "We just needed it so desperately."

Related Videos
dvm360 Live! with Dr. Adam Christman
dvm360 Live! with Dr. Adam Christman
dvm360 Live! with Dr. Adam Christman
dvm360 Live! with Dr. Adam Christman
dvm360 Live! with Dr. Adam Christman
dvm360 Live! with Dr. Adam Christman
Maxim / stock.adobe.com
dvm360 Live! with Dr. Adam Christman
dvm360 Live! with Dr. Adam Christman
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.