"IT WAS VERY BRUTAL"
KELOWNA – Cheryl Lyse and her husband Warren thought they were doing the right thing for their eight-year-old Shih Tzu, Lexy, by taking her to get her teeth cleaned.
But now they have only regrets for using 'unlicensed veterinary care' — one of many pop up or pop in pet teeth cleaning services provided around the province. Four days after Lexy's $236 cleaning by Tina’s K9 & Feline Teeth Cleaning, she says Lexy wouldn't eat and had a fever. Dr. Theresa Jacobson of Jacobson Veterinary Services in Kelowna found she had a broken jaw, four loose teeth, two front teeth were missing and she had abscesses on her left flank and her right eye caused by a blood infection.
“I regret it now because I think it was very brutal,” Cheryl says.
And that’s not what she expected. The Lyses are like thousands of other pet owners around the province who were attracted by advertising claims from a burgeoning industry of pet teeth cleaning services. They often advertise themselves as 'anesthesia-free' and an alternative to more expensive veterinary care. But the risks, some veterinarians and others like the Lyses say, are too great.
Lexy’s jaw was wired for seven weeks.
“They pulled out two of her teeth without anesthetic or pain killers,” Cheryl says. "She’s not licensed to give injections, she’s not licensed to administer antibiotics. On her website it says if they see any signs of dental disease they won’t do the procedure, they’ll refer you to your veterinarian. Well, she didn’t do that.”
Now the Lyses have filed a small claims suit against owner Tina Bell, seeking a refund and compensation for their vet bills. Bell is from Vancouver Island but her company hires 'apprentices' for mobile clinics. Last week Tina's employees were practicing at a pet supply store on Pandosy Street but Bell was nowhere to be found. Numerous attempts to contact her for this story have gone unanswered.
In response to the claim, she said in court documents: "Any injuries to the claimant's dog was caused by activities or agencies completely unconnected with the services provided."
The allegations have not been proven in court.
According to court documents, Dr. Jacobson described what she believes caused Lexy’s injuries.
"Lexy's jaw was broken during the dental procedure performed by Tina Bell,” it says.
But it doesn’t end there. The College of Veterinarians of B.C. is pursuing a legal injunction on Tina Bell and her business, asking the Supreme Court of B.C. to force her to stop offering her services. Deputy registrar John Brocklebank says the college has received numerous complaints about these procedures and businesses and has sanctioned a handful of oeprators, sometimes employing private investigators to confirm the unlawful practices.
The college is also investigating the Victoria-based agency that 'certified' Bell.
Sylvia MacDonald of K9 BriteBark has already been sanctioned by the college, upheld by the B.C. Supreme Court in 2004. The judges ruled her advertising and claims were misleading and purported to be undertaking activities regulated by the college by law.
But since then she has only further tested the boundaries. She created the K9 Oral Health Association, according to her website. The association purports to 'enhance the level of ethics, civility and professionalism in the practice of Anesthetic-Free pet oral hygiene and cleaning' by certifying others to do it; 16 people so far. The 'certification' would appear to add credibility when advertising — Tina Bell displays it on her Facebook page — but the certification process remains a mystery: It was not approved by the college and a Supreme Court judge found the teeth 'cleaning' they do is little more than a 'cosmetic' process.
Proper teeth cleaning can only be done under anesthesia by a veterinarian because it must reach below the gumline.
MacDonald’s website claims they teach anesthetic-free pet oral hygiene and cleaning techniques through 'an extensive educational and hands-on program' but in an interview, she refused to give any specifics. MacDonald says all of the people she has certified came to her with years of experience 'in dogs.' She says there is no way to break a dog's jaw using the techniques she teaches and that Lexy's injuries must have happened before coming to Tina.
"This is ridiculous, it really is a witch hunt," she says. "I've never heard of such nonsense. I'm a behavioralist (sic) I've been working with dogs all my life... they don't have to make this stuff up. This has nothing to do with the certification."
Her certifying agency has not investigated Bell nor does it appear to have procedures in place for monitoring or disciplining those it 'certifies.'
Brocklebank says the college is currently investigating MacDonald and her 'certifying' body as well as the accreditation it gives its students. He says while they take no issue with groomers brushing dogs’ teeth, the language being used to sell the procedure borders on the practice of veterinary medicine without a license.
“Sylvia is claiming this is (college-approved) and therefore have permission to use these titles,” he says. “They can’t call themselves a certified canine oral hygiene provider or cleaner because those titles (are) misleading to the public. Only veterinarians or people who work under a veterinarian’s supervision or delegation could look at animals’ teeth and assess whether or not the mouth is healthy.”
MacDonald also claims in her advertising to have the support of several veterinarians but was unwilling to supply a list of their names to Infonews.ca.
Several veterinarians contacted by Infonews.ca have declined to speak openly about the pet teeth cleaning industry while these cases are before the court. But others say it is a growing problem and the use of 'oral-hygiene' groomers has too many consequences.
Dr. Moshe Oz of Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital says almost every week he sees evidence of damage caused by the anesthetic-free teeth cleaning procedure, which may involve restraining the dogs' or cats' heads and bodies — sometimes with a towel or straps, but usually just a finger — and propping open the mouth. MacDonald denies this is the case but admits the groomers sometimes have to hold the dogs' heads to keep it still. Dr. Oz, however, says he has personally seen several injuries, including broken bones and teeth caused by the immobilization. But that’s not what worries him most.
“From the outside the tooth looks amazing but if you take an x-ray you might see an abscess,” he says. “It’s just cosmetically cleaning, it’s not medically cleaning. They don’t prevent problems it actually makes it worse and makes us really busy.”
Without anesthetic or an x-ray, he says, there is no way to know what is happening below the surface of the tooth, where the real problems start. And that’s not the worst that can happen.
“The stress can even cause an elderly animal to have a heart attack,” he says.
The advertising claims made by Bell certainly worked on Cheryl Lyse. A pamphlet for Tina’s services says: 'The benefits of this technique over conventional veterinary methods are numerous…. This procedure is quick, stress-free, worry-free, risk-free, and cost effective.'
Lyse says it spoke to her because she was worried about the possible side effects of putting an aged dog under general anesthesia but now urges anyone considering using these services to understand the risks — she won’t do it again.
“I thought I was doing her a favour by not having an anesthetic,” she says. “Now I regret it."
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