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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, April 27, 2006

Gosch accuses vet of poor practices

By Matt Cook

WESTERLO — Sam the cat led a long life plagued by health problems and capped by a mysterious death that resulted in the suspension of his vet by the New York State Department of Education.

A complaint from Sam’s owner, William Gosch, of Westerlo, prompted an education-department investigation. Veterinarian Harry F. Prussner, of Greenville, admitted to two instances of professional negligence at his Meadowstone Veterinary Hospital. According to Prussner’s application for a consent order, he treated Sam for hypothyroidism without a blood test in 1996 and allowed an unlicensed person to administer an intravenous saline solution in 2003.

Although none of the documentation says Prussner is responsible for Sam’s death, Prussner is subject to a 24-month suspension, 23 months of which have been stayed. He will resume work in May. His license is on probation for two years and he owes a $1,000 fine.

Earlier this month, Prussner was removed from his post as Rensselaerville town vet and replaced by Diane Biederman.

Prussner claims that Gosch is the one guilty of negligence. Gosch continued to allow his cat outside despite the vet’s warnings that Sam was eating game, which was backing up his excretory system with flesh and fur, Prussner said.

"For years, I begged him not to let the cat out," Prussner said.

Gosch took Sam to Prussner on Jan. 22 to relieve stool impaction. By Jan. 24, he was dead. According to the vet’s records, Sam had had the procedure done several times before. During the nearly 15 years Gosch owned him, the cat made over a hundred trips to Prussner, about 30 of which were for an enema, a surgical procedure for cats, requiring anesthesia.

The "unexpected and suspicious" nature of Sam’s death, Gosch said, convinced him to look into Prussner’s practice. He decided to lodge a complaint with the state, Gosch told The Enterprise, because he thought it would be more effective than a lawsuit, which could only recover the cost of the cat.

Sam was a "walk-on," Gosch said, a stray cat who wandered into his life. Sam lived indoors and outdoors. "From the get-go," Gosch said, he was suspicious of Prussner’s treatment. He continued to take his cat to Prussner, though, as a matter of convenience.

"It was the question of a 10-minute drive versus a 45-minute drive," Gosch said.

Diagnosis by treatment

The charges relate to earlier actions taken by the vet. In 1996, Prussner started Sam on treatment for hypothyroidism, a common affliction of cats, without a blood test. Records say Sam was losing hair on his back legs on that date.

Prussner told The Enterprise that, instead of doing blood tests, he chose another option recommended by veterinary texts. He administered hypothyroid medication and monitored the cat’s reaction.

"Well," Prussner said, "he reacted favorably."

When Sam’s condition improved, Prussner concluded that hypothyroidism was present. In any case, Prussner said, the dose of medication Sam was taking could not have killed him.

Without blood tests, however, the Department of Education could not confirm that Prussner’s diagnosis was correct.

The unlicensed administration of intravenous fluid was in January of 2003. According to Prussner’s records, a few days earlier, Sam started vomitting, drooling, and eating and drinking very little.

While the cause of Sam’s death is not documented, according to Gosch’s complaint, Prussner said it was due to kidney failure.

A histopathology exam Gosch had done on Sam’s body at the Guilderland Animal Hospital says Sam suffered from a mild infection in his kidney. But, the report says, "The tissues do not explain the death in this case." Lab data would be necessary to determine if Sam had significant kidney disease, the report says.

Prussner told The Enterprise that he first suggested kidney disease because it is one of the top killers of older cats. After reading the histopathology report, Prussner said, his best guess is hypoxia, loss of oxygen to the brain.

Sam’s death, Prussner said, may have been avoidable if Sam hadn’t required so many enemas over the years and so much anesthesia. Also, Prussner said, after the first signs of Sam’s impaction, Gosch waited a few days for Prussner to get back from a veterinary convention in Florida instead of taking the cat to another clinic.

Gosch’s complaint includes a long list of accusations not addressed by the Department of Education. They include that Prussner operates an unlicensed animal crematorium, stores controlled substances in unsecured locations, and failed to document the type and amount of anesthesia he administered Sam.


Officials for the Department of Education wouldn’t comment on the investigation or if other complaints have been lodged against the vet. Prussner has never before been subject to disciplinary action from the state.

Prussner, who has been practicing for over 34 years, said his reputation and his practice has been "trashed" by Gosch.

"All that 15 years of service, of keeping that cat going, has obviously been forgotten," Prussner said.

As for his Rensselaerville post, Prussner said he was surprised to be removed after 10 years without a problem. The town didn’t even notify him, he said. He learned of it from The Enterprise.

The town vet is responsible for the medical treatment the animals under the care of the town’s dog-control officer.

"I’ve never had any problem with him," said Cheryl Tefft-Baitsholts, who holds that post.

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