dog's best friend

One Man’s Fight to Fix a Failed Veterinarian Discipline System

Harold Lehr’s beloved dog Oscar died after an allegedly botched MRI at a Long Island clinic.
Harold Lehr’s beloved dog Oscar died after an allegedly botched MRI at a Long Island clinic. Photo: Courtesy of Harold Lehr

When Harold Lehr’s beloved dog Oscar died after an allegedly botched MRI procedure, he became consumed with grief and anger.

“I wanted to call the police,” Lehr said, recalling the sight of his ailing black border collie on the floor following the routine diagnostic check last year.

He’s since launched a personal crusade to overhaul the legal and disciplinary systems that oversee pet care in New York. Lehr’s campaign includes a lawsuit over Oscar’s death.

The Union Square resident and other domestic-animal activists contend the court system and the state licensing body that oversee veterinarians offer little recourse.

“I’m trying to prevent this from happening to other pets,” Lehr said.

Pets Treated Like Property

Veterinarians in New York are rarely disciplined for faulty care and the probes can drag on for years, an April analysis by THE CITY found.

Meanwhile, under New York State law, pets are treated as property rarely worth more than several hundred dollars, according to attorneys who handle abuse cases.

New York is one of only 13 states that categorize pets that way. The other states consider them as at least sentient beings.

“Vets should be liable for malpractice and pain and suffering,” Lehr said. “Why are some of New York’s animal laws the least progressive?”

Lehr’s working with the office of state Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) to propose legislation to change how pets are viewed under the law and to strengthen the state’s veterinarian disciplinary system.

And Lehr already has a name for the measures: Oscar’s Law.

The reform package is in its nascent stage. Krueger declined to discuss the proposal or give a possible timeline.

“We are just not ready yet,” said Dawn Gersham, her director of health policy.

Complaint Filed Against Clinic

As for his beloved Oscar, Lehr filed a complaint against Long Island Veterinary Specialists with the state’s Office of Professional Discipline, which oversees veterinarians, records show.

He’s also suing the Plainview clinic, charging a doctor there lied about her expertise, ordered an unnecessary — and dangerous — MRI and proposed risky surgery designed to make more money.

Harold Lehr with his beloved dog, Oscar, who died after an allegedly botched MRI at a Long Island clinic.
Harold Lehr with his beloved dog, Oscar, who died after an allegedly botched MRI at a Long Island clinic. Photo: Courtesy of Harold Lehr

The 14-year-old dog, who had previously undergone a hip replacement, had been limping. Medical staff at the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan, where Oscar was normally treated, said the limp was likely due to arthritis, according to the lawsuit.

Oscar became crippled after the MRI and suffered from urine and fecal burns during his stay at the Long Island clinic, the lawsuit alleges. He was euthanized several weeks later.

Alex Bateman, a lawyer representing the facility, declined to comment on the case. But he said veterinarians at the practice provide “exceptional” care, and noted the clinic is accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association.

The clinic’s doctors, he added, “are always scrupulous in treating pets in their care and when recommending treatment or diagnostic tests.”

Bateman argued that any doctors who contend the MRI was unnecessary “are either lacking in sufficient education and experience, or were provided incomplete and inaccurate information.”

Lehr is seeking $25,000 in compensatory damages, with punitive damages to be decided during trial. The entrepreneur, a veteran of the financial services industry, vowed to donate any monetary award to an animal charity.

“I’m doing this as a public service, not to make money,” he said.

Have you had any issues with a veterinarian? Whether you’ve reported it or not, we’d like to talk with you. Email the reporter at rblau@thecity.nyc or text, WhatsApp, Signal him at 646-591-1256.

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