MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A Minnesota couple blames their veterinarian for burning their dogs so badly it killed one of them. But what happened after, they consider even worse.
“I was thinking I’d have to deal with it someday but not this way,” Tom Dunlap said. “There couldn’t have been a worse death.”
Dunlap and his wife, Mary Christensen, took their shih tzus to their family vets in Hastings for a routine teeth cleaning. A month later, one of their dogs was dead.
WCCO investigated the cover-up that a family says killed their dog and cost those who spoke out their jobs.
They are a breed known for their spunk and affection.
“I’ve had other dogs and never gotten attached to dogs like these,” Tom Dunlap said.
Shih tzus Sophie and Kaiya were best friends in a family that considered them their kids, making their latest memories that much harder to look back on.
“I said to her, ‘I’m leaving now. I love you. You be here when I get back,’” Mary Christensen said.
A year and a half ago, Christensen and Dunlap brought their two dogs to have some teeth pulled and others cleaned at Town and Country Veterinary in Hastings. The clinic is run by Drs. Jon and Julie Woodman, a husband and wife team.
“He actually seemed to be a caring and really good vet,” Christensen said.
As soon as the dogs got home that day, Tom and Mary noticed they weren’t themselves.
“I was holding her on my lap, and she was panting and panting and panting,” Christensen said.
Returning to the vets the next day, they were told their dogs were having trouble coming off the anesthesia.
In reality, Kaiya and Sophie had been hooked up to heating pads to maintain their body temperature during their dental work. But something went wrong — something Mary and Tom were never told.
At home, Kaiya continued to get worse.
“We could tell she was just struggling,” Dunlap said.
Next, Tom noticed wounds on the sides of both dogs that started to rupture.
“Pretty much every day we were taking the dogs to the vet,” Dunlap said. “Every day.”
For nearly a month it went on, with the Woodmans treating both dogs at the clinic, which never offered a clear diagnosis and blamed everything from allergies to food poisoning.
“Everyday it was, ‘Take them there,’ ‘Get them cleaned,’ and then he started cutting skin away,” Dunlap said.
“I just trusted a professional doctor, I just trusted him,” Dunlap said. “I should have just at least went and got a second opinion, but I just really believed, you know, a doctor. What point would there be to let an animal suffer.”
Days later, 8-year-old Kaiya couldn’t fight through it anymore.
“I basically watched the life leave her eyes,” Dunlap said.
The next day an anonymous letter arrived in the mail.
“I recognized that it probably came from their office,” Dunlap said.
It read, “You have been wronged. The diagnosis and treatment your pets have received should be reviewed. Please contact a lawyer and the Minnesota Board of Animal Health about the condition of your dogs and to find out what actions should be taken.”
The office manager for the Woodmans for 12 years, Laura Thomsen, couldn’t stay quiet any longer.
“Maybe Kaiya would be alive had I done something sooner,” Thomsen said.
Tom and Mary went straight to vets at the University of Minnesota who determined both dogs suffered third-degree burns.
An investigation by the Board of Veterinary Medicine would reveal a tech warned Julie Woodman that Kaiya’s body temperature hit a high level while hooked up to a heating pad intended for human use for two hours. Julie Woodman left the room, and did not instruct the technician on how to handle the situation.
The board also discovered Jon Woodman had disposed of their heating pads days after Kaiya and Sophie’s dental work, and that Kaiya’s medical records were altered after her death. He only wrote down how he’d been treating her after she died.
The Woodmans wouldn’t agree to be interviewed. But in a statement, they said they were truthful and used their best professional judgment. They said at no time did it appear that either dog sustained a thermal injury.
Earlier this month, the board issued a stayed suspension against the Woodmans.
They’ll have to complete a number of courses on ethics, record-keeping and thermal injuries to keep their license. Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine Executive Director Dr. Julia Wilson told WCCO the board based its decision on an assessment of risk of the situation.
“Speaking as a veterinarian and not as an executive director, when you can’t figure a case out or when you’re out of your depth, the appropriate thing to do is ask for help,” Wilson said.
Meanwhile, Thomsen is convinced everyone in the small clinic knew from day one what went on.
“It was pretty obvious what was wrong with the dogs,” Thomsen said.
She’s one of three to be let go in the months that followed. Certainly, it’s because of speaking out.
“If I had to choose, I’d do it again and do it sooner,” Thomsen said.
In a statement, the Woodmans told WCCO, “The personnel changes at the clinic were unrelated to this matter.”
Sophie will always have scars.
“She’s a trooper, she’s a tough little cookie,” Mary Christensen said.
She’s still getting used to the new brother Tom and Mary brought home.
But they’ll never forget Kaiya’s place in the family and the betrayal they believe took her away.
“A lot of my anger is just toward myself, that I allowed it to happen,” Dunlap said.
WCCO found vet clinics are discouraged from using human heating pads during surgery. Animals can’t feel if the pads get too hot. Experts suggest pads designed specifically for pets.
To check out if your vet has faced any disciplinary action in the past, visit the Board of Veterinary Medicine’s website.