San Diego Co Shelter Vet Files Whistleblower Retaliation Lawsuit

Dr. Bruce Cauble, a California veterinarian who worked at San Diego County’s three shelters since 2002, has filed a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit against the county.  Named in the lawsuit is deputy director and medical operations manager David Johnson, a registered veterinary technician who oversees the medical portion of the three county shelters.  The lawsuit alleges that Johnson’s mismanagement resulted in a number of serious issues and when the three county vets, including Dr. Cauble, spoke out about the problems, they were each transferred to the shelter farthest from their homes.  The allegations include:

  • Dogs housed in unheated concrete kennels where the temperature sometimes dropped below 50 degrees.  A boiler that was supposed to provide heat for the floors was often broken and management failed to have it repaired in a timely manner.  Staff referred to these chronically cold dogs as “ice puppies”.
  • Staff hosed down the ice puppies’ kennels with the dogs still inside, wetting down the pets and any towels that had been given to them for warmth.
  • Management failed to provide an adequate supply of pain medications and food for the animals in the medical ward and Dr. Cauble witnessed suffering as a result.
  • None of the three shelters’ x-ray machines were properly inspected or licensed, as required by law.  The staff did not have radiation monitoring badges.  When Dr. Cauble brought these issues to the attention of Mr. Johnson, he responded by threatening to shut down all x-ray activity but in fact, directed staff to continue using the unlicensed machines.
  • Two of the county’s three shelters lacked premise permits and were operating illegally.  As a result the state veterinary board advised that some animals had to be transferred to the only shelter with the required permit for treatment.  This caused animals to suffer because their veterinary care, including pain medication, was delayed.
  • Mr. Johnson stopped pain medications on animals who had been prescribed them by county vets.
  • After complaints were filed regarding the above issues by the veterinarians, all three were transferred to inconvenient work locations by Mr. Johnson.  As a result, none of the three veterinarians remained on the job and shelter animals suffered from lack of qualified and consistent veterinary care.

In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Dr. Cauble expressed his frustrations with the county bureaucracy:

Cauble said non-veterinarian bureaucrats often prescribe medications or perform other tasks that are required to be performed by veterinarians. He said more than once, he was told to stay away while television news crews interviewed administrators who portrayed themselves as licensed veterinarians.

“We do have a number of animals die from secondary pneumonia and respiratory diseases” that are preventable, Cauble said. “The problem is, we have six or seven paper pushers-who make $700,000-plus between them, but they can’t seem to find $30 to replace a simple boiler part.”

Dr. Cauble also spoke with 10News about the ice puppies:

Cauble said five years ago he started complaining about the boiler to his bosses, but they refused to get a new one, instead making repairs. He said the boiler broke down about five times every year, leaving animals in the cold for at least a week.

“The dogs would get hypothermic. We would wrap them in towels, but the towel would get wet. The dryer was sometimes broken, so we’d run out of towels,” said Cauble. “The conditions left them susceptible to more problems, like kennel cough, pneumonia and distemper.”

San Diego Co’s official response to the lawsuit:

The Department of Animal Services’ number one priority is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the animals in its care. The County is reviewing the claim that has been filed and isn’t able to comment on pending litigation but will continue to provide the best care possible for all of the animals in our shelters.

Raise your icy paw if you feel reassured.

(Thank you Clarice for the links.)

10 thoughts on “San Diego Co Shelter Vet Files Whistleblower Retaliation Lawsuit

  1. This is a good development — & an excellent example of why “ag-gag” & related laws should not exist. Whistleblowers should be free to bring true info forward for the public good.

    1. Hopefully it is the beginning of a new, truly compassionate and caring experience for animals housed at these facilities. Good for Dr Cauble and a pox on those who are trying to sweep it under the rug. These are living beings!!!

  2. This is an important lawsuit that will pave the way to help animals in shelters all across the country. Kudos to the vets who filed it. As more and more legal precedents are set, illegal and immoral practices at Animal Controls will be prohibited by the Courts.

  3. Marianna I think you misunderstand the law.. this law makes it mandatory to report abuse immediately and not sit on it ..if the law were in place less dogs wold have suffered and died. or been “ice puppies” because it would have been reported right away..

  4. These comments sound optimistic. I, on the other hand, read into this that little if anything will be done and if so, NOT in a timely manner. When an agency says ” continue to provide the best care possible for all of the animals in our shelters” that tells me that they think everything is just fine and will continue in the same vein. These are EXACTLY the kind of people who should be barred from entering any animal shelter.

    1. Lawsuits like this do bring about change, not because officials see the light, but because enormous money judgments get their attention. If I am not mistaken, lawsuits in this category can result in Treble (triple) damages awarded to the Plaintiffs.
      In claiming they give “the best care possible” they are publicly denying the claims of Plaintiff’s charges.
      One can only hope, though, that this case does not settle out of court. What is going on at that shelter is also going on in shelters all over the country, and advocates need precedent of court rulings and money judgments in order to file suit and clean up their local shelters.


  6. I’m glad to see that we’ll see positive changes across the country! Our animals deserve better and you’d think that all complaints across the country would give them some idea of the numerous problem across the Country! Those in charge act like 2 yr olds, playing a game! I really hope the lawsuit brings great changes throughout the country!

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