Review criticizes Texas agency that regulates veterinarians

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas agency that regulates veterinarians — which aggressively pursued one high-profile case and was overwhelmed by complaints in another — hasn’t been keeping on top of basic responsibilities such as proper fiscal management, evenhanded enforcement and keeping tabs on controlled substances meant for animals, according to a state review.

The San Antonio Express-News ( ) reports that the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners accepted the findings by the staff of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, which periodically reviews state agencies.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, a Democrat from Austin who is a commission member, says the veterinary board is “in a shambles.”

The agency, which faces a push for change in the coming legislative session, informed Watson’s office that its executive director tendered her resignation.

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Interim executive director Rudy Calderon, who stepped into the top job when Nicole Oria resigned, says the veterinary board is “diligently working to implement changes that will address the commission’s concerns.”

“These changes may include changes in personnel and an agency reorganization,” Calderon said.

Oria, facing questioning by the sunset panel at a November meeting, cited in part the demands of dealing with about 750 complaints after a veterinarian posted a photo of herself holding up a cat’s body by an arrow speared through the animal’s head. The board ended up suspending the veterinarian’s license for a year.

In a separate case with implications for the no-kill shelter movement, the agency became involved in a legal fight by pursuing enforcement action against a shelter veterinarian over the death of a dog. The veterinarian successfully argued that shelter work wasn’t subject to the board’s purview in a case that went to the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin.

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The Legislature is expected to take up the issue, among others, in its regular session, which begins in January.

The sunset report said the agency’s struggle with issues in the cases contributed to its problems. But it said the cases “do not fully account” for issues at the small agency with a $1.1 million annual budget and staff of 20.

Among problems, the report said the agency wasn’t able to provide basic enforcement data with a reasonable degree of confidence or reliably provide basic financial information. The report also said the agency hadn’t finished closing its books for fiscal year 2015 and hadn’t followed proper procedures in awarding a contract.

The report also said the agency’s enforcement couldn’t ensure fair treatment of licensees or people filing complaints. And with 6,300 veterinarians authorized to dispense controlled substances, the report said, the board has “an ineffective and inconsistent approach” to monitoring the substances’ theft and loss.

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