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Man Accused of Posing as Veterinarian

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Correspondent Thom Mrozek contributed to this story

A man who prosecutors say performed surgeries on a cat months after its owners thought it had been euthanized has been charged with illegally practicing veterinary medicine at a Chatsworth clinic.

Alan Abrams was charged with 21 misdemeanor counts of practicing without a license. His father, licensed veterinarian Steven Abrams, also was charged with 21 counts of aiding and abetting his son, said City Atty. James K. Hahn.

In interviews Wednesday, the two denied all the allegations.

The elder Abrams said he has been practicing veterinary medicine for 38 years, and said his son runs the business side of his Chatsworth clinic, only occasionally assisting with surgery, much like the technicians in the office.

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Abrams said his son does not represent himself as a veterinarian--a contention contradicted by several clients interviewed by prosecutors. The father said his son does not diagnose or treat animals, or perform surgery.

“We haven’t done anything wrong . . . we are very surprised,” said Alan Abrams.

“I feel like I’ve been run over by a bus,” said the portly, white-haired elder Abrams, who does house calls and describes himself as an animal lover since childhood who can never bring himself to kill an animal unless there is no other way to end its pain.

“It is inhumane to put them to sleep if you can help them,” Abrams said.

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Prosecutors allege that a Northridge couple brought Bandit the cat to the clinic to be euthanized April 27, 1992. Alan Abrams later returned the cat to the owner, according to prosecutors. The cat was brought in again for euthanasia sometime later and two surgeries were performed, allegedly by Alan Abrams, on July 14 and Sept. 15, 1992, before the cat finally was euthanized Sept. 17, 1992.

“There is no way to prove it was cruel, but certainly I think it causes great anxiety on the part of owners who abandoned the cat,” Hahn said.

The cat was the pet of an elderly couple and suffered from lymphatic cancer, according to the elder Abrams. After several surgeries, the woman signed a euthanasia release form and told him to do what he could for the cat and euthanize it if necessary. Abrams said he, not his son, tried two more operations. Contrary to what prosecutors charge, Abrams contended that the cat died on the operating table.

But in a later interview Wednesday, Steven Abrams, citing a “fuzzy” memory, said he consulted his records, which showed a different cat may have been involved.

Ruth Kwan, head of the consumer protection unit of the Los Angeles city attorney’s office, said that the line allegedly crossed by Alan Abrams “was not even a fine line . . . . He actually did everything a licensed vet should be doing.”

Based on interviews with clients and clinic employees, and inspections of Abrams’ surgical records, it appeared to be “a common practice” in the clinic for the son to present himself as a veterinarian and perform procedures such as taking blood and inoculating animals, said Deputy City Atty. Greg Parham.

State law prohibits unlicensed persons from representing themselves as licensed veterinarians, diagnosing disease in animals, administering drugs to animals, performing surgery or using words or letters to indicate that they are veterinarians, said Daniel Elias, investigator for the state Department of Consumer Affairs--Investigations Division in Van Nuys.

“It is a serious offense,” said Kwan. “There are a lot of people who love animals and treat them like their own children. They expect a licensed vet to take care of them.”

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In interviews with two clinic clients Wednesday, each said they thought the younger Abrams was a veterinarian.

Pam Bordeau of Canoga Park, who took Fred, her basset hound, to Abrams’ clinic for treatment of stomach problems, said Alan Abrams introduced himself to her as “Dr. Abrams.”

“It didn’t even cross my mind that he was not a vet,” she said.

Alan Abrams never could tell her what was wrong with the dog, and she eventually took it to another veterinarian, who diagnosed an allergy, she said.

The elder Abrams acknowledged that some of his records had not been kept up to date, a violation of state rules. But he denied that he was ever cruel to animals, and adamantly insisted that his son only acted as an assistant.


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