Sign up for our free newsletter
Thank you to the Washington City Paper and journalist Huan Hsu for telling Coco’s story (“More Than a Feline,” 5/27).
We are concerned, though, that it might not be completely clear why pet owners should care about the death of a 16-year-old cat two years ago.
There are two problems. First, there are no veterinary-malpractice laws in the District (or Maryland, Virginia, and most other states).
In human medicine, doctors are held responsible for pain, suffering, damage to relationships, and other results if they hurt a patient. Like many grieving pet owners before us, we were shocked to learn there is no equivalent standard for vets. As the article correctly notes, vets who injure or kill a pet are liable only for the animal’s cost. This outdated standard from the horse-and-buggy days does not recognize the strong attachments between pets and their owners. In fact, if a pet cost nothing, like Coco, its life is worthless in the eyes of the law.
Vets in D.C. and elsewhere know they are not subject to serious legal risks for poor care despite charging prices that sometimes approach human medical costs. Also, lawyers generally will not touch a case like Coco’s, because there is no payout at the end.
California and a few other states have recently enacted veterinary-malpractice laws despite opposition from the veterinary community. The District should, too.
The second problem Coco’s story illustrates is the lack of enforcement of the District’s existing veterinary laws.
By law, an unlicensed intern “must identify himself or herself as such before practicing veterinary medicine.” The unlicensed Friendship intern who treated Coco, Tawnia Zollinger, did not do this. Had she done so, we would not have let her treat our cat.
Zollinger made an obvious mistake when she prescribed a massive overdose of a kidney-toxic drug, ketoprofen, to a cat who already had kidney disease and without checking our cat’s kidney values.
D.C. law also requires unlicensed interns to be supervised by a licensed practitioner. For those interested, these and other D.C. vet laws are online at http://www.asis
Incredibly, according to the article, the District issued a license to Zollinger before it even investigated our case.
The veterinary community should have protected pets years ago by demanding a working vet board, strict enforcement of the laws, and a higher legal standard for veterinary medicine. It did not do so.
We caught Zollinger’s mistake with Coco by chance. There is no telling how many other animals are hurt by vets and their assistants without owners’ ever catching on.
We wait to see what the District does with our case.
We are collecting cases of veterinary malpractice. If you have a story, please e-mail it to us at