The RCVS disciplinary committee (DC) has directed the name of a Dorset veterinary surgeon be removed from the register after she admitted to animal welfare offences.

Happy
Shih-tzu Happy as he was found by the council. Image courtesy RSPCA.

The decision to remove Kerstin Vockert from the register was made following a two-day hearing, during which the DC heard that, on 30 April 2015 at Bournemouth Magistrates’ Court, Ms Vockert was convicted under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, on her own admission of failing to protect two dogs she owned from pain, suffering, injury and disease by not adequately grooming them.

The prosecution had been brought by the RSPCA after one of her dogs, a shih-tzu named Happy, was taken into care by the council in September 2014 as a stray.

Clear signs of neglect

The dog was examined by Chris Devlin, who reported, at the time, the dog’s coat was in an “appalling state, with multiple mats of hair all over his body” and with “evidence of faecal and urinary soiling on the fur around the rear end”, constituting clear signs of neglect.

The dog was anaesthetised and treated by Mr Devlin for an eye condition and also given a full body shave. The dog made a full recovery after these operations.

Council employees discovered Happy belonged to Ms Vockert and referred the matter to the RSPCA, which started an investigation into his condition. When two RSPCA inspectors visited Ms Vockert’s home in September 2014 they observed a cocker spaniel named Millie had severely matted fur. There were no concerns about any of the other dogs owned by Ms Vockert.

Euthanised

The two inspectors visited Ms Vockert’s home the next day by appointment and were told by Ms Vockert that Millie had been euthanised. Millie’s body was subsequently taken to Kenneth Smith and Claire Muir for a postmortem.

In their report they observed Millie’s hair coat to be “extensively matted and given the growth of hair over the collar and claws, it is likely the hair has not been clipped for an extremely long period… and is likely to have restricted the dog’s ability to walk. In addition, a large amount of faecal material has become matted within the hair coat and this finding strongly suggests this dog was neglected”.

Kerstin Vockert
Kerstin Vockert arriving at Bournemouth Magistrates Court. Image: TomWren/BNPS.

As a result of her prosecution, Ms Vockert was fined £620, ordered to pay costs of £300, a victim surcharge of £62 and a deprivation of animal ownership order was made under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Extremely serious

The DC considered the failure to groom extended over a period of months and any conviction on the part of a veterinary surgeon relating to animal welfare was an extremely serious matter.

Ian Green, chairing the DC and speaking on its behalf, said: “The college submitted the conviction of a veterinary surgeon for an animal welfare offence of necessity has the potential to undermine both the reputation of the profession and public confidence in the profession.

“In such circumstances, the respondent’s conviction fell far below the standard to be expected of a veterinary surgeon and, therefore, renders her unfit to practise veterinary surgery.”

Removal from register

In considering Ms Vockert’s sanction, the DC took into mitigation her long and otherwise unblemished career, both in the UK and Germany, her guilty plea to the RSPCA conviction and the fact she made no attempt to challenge the college’s submissions in relation to her fitness to practise.

However, it also took into account a number of aggravating features, particularly the fact there was “actual neglect of the welfare of two animals, over a protracted period of time, which resulted in pain, suffering and discomfort”.

Mr Green added: “This aspect of the case is made more serious because the two animals in question belonged to the respondent, who is a practising veterinary surgeon with access to the drugs and equipment necessary to groom the dogs.”

Ultimately, the DC decided the only appropriate sanction was to direct the acting registrar to remove Ms Vockert’s name from the register.

Summing up, Mr Green said: “The committee considers that the respondent’s conduct, which led to the conviction, involved a departure from the most basic and pivotal principle of the Code [of Professional Conduct], which states the first consideration when attending to animals is health and welfare.

“Accordingly, the committee had decided removal from the register is appropriate and proportionate in this case.”

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