PETALING JAYA, MALAYSIA: When you send your pets to the veterinary clinic, you would expect a qualified veterinarian to treat it. But as The Star discovered recently, that may not be the case.
One recent case was unearthed in March when PR consultant Wendy Leow brought her Shih Tzu puppy, Precious, to a veterinary clinic here for a possible skin problem and the "veterinarian" there who treated the pup immediately diagnosed it as scabies from a visual examination.
When Precious' right eye got badly inflamed, Leow took the dog back to the "veterinarian" who said that Shih Tzus were prone to eye infections and suggested that the fur around the pup's eye be trimmed.
"But the eye got worse and a colleague recommended another clinic in Brickfields. The vet there said the eye had become ulcerated and if surgery was not performed immediately, there was a danger of losing the eye completely.
"Precious recovered and the eye was saved. But when asked on the scabies, the vet took a skin swab, which he said was necessary to diagnose scabies, and found it to be a simple yeast infection," said Leow.
Leow thought it was a case of misdiagnosis but The Star discovered that the first veterinarian she consulted was not qualified and was not on the list of registered veterinarians maintained by the Malaysian Veterinary Council (MVC, which is empowered to regulate the profession).
His modus operandi is by presenting the name card of a qualified veterinarian who has the same Christian name as his.
Apparently, there had been other complaints against the bogus veterinarian. Other veterinarians including those from a veterinarian organisation have told the owner of the clinic to stop the bogus veterinarian from treating animals but this has gone unheeded.
A pet columnist with the Star Weekender, Ellen Whyte spoke of her experience in Malacca when a woman who said she was a veterinarian gave the wrong treatment for her kitten. She subsequently found that the woman was not qualified but was the wife of the veterinarian running the practice.
"I got the numbers for the vet authority in the state from my vet and reported them both. Nothing was done. When I left a year later, these two were carrying on in exactly the same way," said Whyte.
Many other veterinarians interviewed spoke of their knowledge of fake veterinarians practising freely.
Former Malaysian Small Animal Veterinary Association (MSAVA) president Dr Paul Chelliah, who is based in Seremban, said he knows of four such bogus veterinarians there.
"They not only vaccinate but also do spaying, surgery, castration and so on. And they are cheap," he said. "Some of them are former DVS (Department of Veterinary Services) staff who are not qualified (but were) just assistants previously. Some of them operate from their houses or go house-to-house."
Association president Dr Clement Anthony said the matter was brought up with the council many times but nothing had been done.
Department of Veterinary Services director-general Datuk Dr Abdul Aziz Jamaluddin confirmed receiving reports of unregistered veterinarians practising at non-registered premises like pet shops.
"It is not under us. We cannot investigate unregistered vets as they do not come under the purview of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1974. The Act only regulates registered vets. It comes under the Penal Code so it is for the police to take action," said Dr Abdul Aziz.
Kuala Lumpur Bar Committee's Young Lawyers Committee chairman Lai Chee Hoe and Vince Chong Khin Young, the Kuala Lumpur Bar Committee Animal Rights sub-committee co-chair, pointed out that Dr Abdul Aziz was mistaken.
Under Section 33 of the Act it clearly states that under subsection (1) (a) to (g) anyone in essence trying to portray themselves as qualified or registered veterinarians is guilty of an offence against the Act.
Section 34 subsection (1), (2) and (3) says that any registered veterinarian who allows or enables an unregistered veterinarian to practise veterinary medicine or practices in the premise of an unregistered veterinarian is also committing an offence.
Also, Section 36 subsection (1) allows for the prosecution for an offence against the Act to be instituted by the president of the council or any state department directors or any officers appointed by them. Section 36 subsection (2) gives the police powers to arrest those who have committed an offence under Section 33.
The council can prosecute but it does not provide them with powers to arrest. So what they can do in practice is this:
"Get a council member to make a police report. Let the police make the arrest. If they don't act on it, you can still draw up the charge sheet and prosecute in court after getting the certificate from the Attorney-General's Chambers," said Lai. "So long as they have powers to prosecute, they can still do so without even arresting the bogus vet."