Outrage over ownership dispute, veterinarian's death plays out on Internet


New York veterinarian Dr. Shirley Koshi dies from apparent suicide; many blame negative campaign against her.

A screenshot from the Veterinary Abuse Network blog, “Suki’s Safe Haven,” picturing protestors outside Dr. Shirly Koshi’s Bronx veterinary clinic in November 2013.

The death of Shirley Koshi, DVM, 55, has caused many in the veterinary community to mourn a fellow veterinarian but also to think deeply about why she apparently took her own life Feb. 16. Some veterinarians have taken to blogs and Facebook pages to address their sadness and concern; others have lashed out on the pages of anti-veterinary groups online that have shown little sympathy for Koshi’s plight.

Koshi opened a solo practice, Gentle Hands Veterinarian, in the Bronx last year. Born in India, Koshi worked more than 30 years in veterinary medicine starting in India, then in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. According to local media reports in New York, Koshi may have been dealing with financial problems with her young practice before she died, but an ugly pet ownership dispute was publicly plaguing her as well.

Local reports say the dispute was over a sick cat—apparently a stray—brought to Koshi by a good Samaritan who found the cat in a park. Koshi adopted the cat, but weeks later, a woman, Gwen Jurmark, came to the clinic claiming ownership of the cat, whom she called “Karl.” Apparently the cat was one of several the woman “kept” at the park. Without sufficient proof of ownership, Koshi would not relinquish the animal.

Jurmark filed a lawsuit against Koshi in October 2013 and organized a demonstration outside Koshi’s clinic. The conflict also played out on the Internet. Protestors and their supporters took to Facebook and other sites—specifically, vetabusenetwork.com, which displays this message from its founder, Julie Catalano: “Every day, untold numbers of defenseless animals are left in the hands of some negligent, incompetent doctors who inflict cruelty, injury, and death on our pets—and get away with it.”

The day after Koshi’s death Catalano posted this update to the Veterinary Abuse Network Facebook page: “BREAKING NEWS.... BREAKING NEWS.... DR. SHIRLEY SARA KOSHI HAS BEEN REPORTED DEAD IN NEW YORK CITY. KARL THE CAT HAS BEEN FOUND.” Three of the torrent of comments that followed included:

> “She was bullied to death it seems by crazy people.”

> “Oh wow. So happy for Karl!”

> “Although I’ve never seen it, could the cause of death possibly be Karma?”

This accelerated the already emotional responses from commenters on both sides. Those in support of Koshi—including other veterinarians—have commented, often in outrage, on the site, accusing Catalano and the site’s commenters of harassment and cyberbullying. Catalano’s response: “I welcome any opportunity to expose to the world the level of true hatred, false and defamatory accusations and the dangerous mob mentality of bully veterinarians and their clueless followers who will stop at nothing to get their way and silence any voices of criticism.”

Some veterinary practices such as Family Veterinary Hospital in Sanford, N.C., are asking its Facebook followers to report the Veterinary Abuse Network’s page to Facebook for harassment. A dvm360 reader created a memorial page pointedly named veterinaryabusenetwork.com to honor Koshi. Catalano hasn’t expressed concern online. She seems to be satisfied with the outcome. “All that matters now is that Karl made it out alive and well for which everyone involved is thankful,” she wrote in a post Feb. 19. “This has been a long and strange saga and I am glad that it ended well for Karl.”

In fact, Jurmark gained possession of the cat when it was released from the Animal Care and Control Center after Koshi’s death.

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