'I was disgusted'; Ont. vet caught choking, punching animals

Share Adjust Comment Print

ST. CATHARINES, Ont. — The College of Veterinarians of Ontario has suspended a St. Catharines veterinarian for professional misconduct after he was caught abusing animals.

But a group of former employees of Dr. Mahavir Singh Rekhi — upset with penalties they felt were too lenient — have gone public with their complaints and released videos, which were also viewed by the college, showing him hitting and choking animals in his care.

“He told me that if you handle them roughly enough, they will learn their lesson — and they did. They remembered him,” said Larissa Engels, a veterinary technician at Skyway Animal Hospital on Welland Avenue.

Rekhi was suspended on Aug. 20.

Rekhi must also pay the college $10,000, be retrained in the proper way to restrain animals, and will be subject to three unannounced inspections each year for two years. The suspension is for 10 months.

Editor’s note: The following video contains graphic content.

The college will cut his suspension to four months after he completes the short retraining program and writes a paper about what he has learned.

The technicians recorded 12 videos of Rekhi’s actions in examining rooms that were out of eyesight of the pets’ owners.

They forwarded them to the college, with written statements to accompany each video.

Jessica Hamilton, one of the veterinary technicians involved in the complaint, worked at the clinic for six months in 2013 and 2014.

“I needed the job badly,” she said. “My friend said you don’t want to work here. I kept saying I need the job. I got the job. My friend sat me down and said you have to see what’s happening here.”

Hamilton said Rekhi put security cameras in the clinic, including one in the back treatment area near the surgery table.

“We decided that if we saw him do something, or abuse an animal, we would look at the time on the clock and remember it in our head,” she said.

“When he left, we would rewind the security tapes and record it with our cellphones.”

Editor’s note: The following video contains graphic content.

Hamilton said it wasn’t just a case of the veterinarian mishandling animals.

“A vet has to handle animals and restrain them. I call it using wrestling moves,” Hamilton said.

“This isn’t that. This is violence. This is punching them. He was choking them. You swear an oath as a vet not to do anything like this. You are supposed to love animals.”

Efforts to reach Rekhi by phone were unsuccessful.

The clinic is still open. A woman there who identified herself as a veterinary technician wouldn’t answer a question about the last time she had talked to Dr. Rekhi but said she would give the reporter’s contact information to him.

A spokesperson for the veterinarians college did not respond to requests for an interview Wednesday.

Hamilton said the technicians waited until they had collected enough evidence for what they felt was an air-tight case.

She said the college receives a lot of complaints about veterinarians. The technicians didn’t want the complaint dismissed with the excuse that it was launched by disgruntled employees or because they had misunderstood the “techniques” the veterinarian was using.

“I was disgusted and hated every minute working at my job, but I was determined to get the truth out,” Hamilton said.

“The videos are hard to watch to this day. There was one where there was a little Chihuahua. The dog was a typical Chihuahua. He could be nasty. A little old lady owned him. She was a good client. The dog had a tick on his head, but it had fallen off. There was a little bald patch. She was worried.

“He (the dog) was so good for us. The other vet tech and I had taken good care of the dog. We had taken his muzzle off. We were so proud of the dog.

“In the video, you can see (Rekhi) puts his hands around the dog’s neck and starts choking him. The dog starts fighting. The dog starts defecating and urinating all over the table because he is suffocating. (Rekhi) starts punching the dog in the face.”

Hamilton said that was the first time she had seen Dr. Rekhi act that way around an animal.

She said the dog was a difficult patient.

“I told my friend that if I ever saw anything like that, I would stand up to him, but I didn’t,” Hamilton said. “The first time I saw it, I froze. I just stood there like a statue. I didn’t know how to react, but I just kept telling myself not to freak out. We would get the evidence we need on the cameras.

“I did say, ‘Why are you doing this?’ at one point. He answered, ‘(The dog) deserves it.’”

Kevin Strooband, executive director of the Lincoln County Humane Society, said he wasn’t aware of the details of the complaint and couldn’t comment on the situation. He said the humane society was not notified of this complaint.

“The Lincoln County Humane Society would receive complaints of animal abuse made against a veterinarian,” he said. “We would investigate these complaints in the same manner as we would any other investigation.”

Hamilton and Engels are dismayed Rekhi can cut his suspension to four months if he undergoes about two days of retraining.

“When he dealt with clients, he had a good rapport with them. He was good at schmoozing, but he acted differently in the back. When the (veterinarians association) said four months, it didn’t seem right. That’s why we decided to go public with the videos.

“It seems too lenient. We don’t want him handling animals again.”