Wednesday 18 September 2019

Vet who gave woman wrong ashes after charging €200 to cremate her pet dog suspended for two months

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)

Tim Healy

A vet who gave a woman the wrong ashes after charging her €200 for cremating her pet dog has been suspended for two months from the register of vets over findings of misconduct.

Noreen O'Mahony became suspicious because the casket of ashes provided to her by Cornelius Twomey for her 10 year old Belgian Shepherd dog Emily in early 2016 weighed less than a casket she received a year previously from a pet crematorium after another of her Belgian Shepherd dogs died.

The president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, when confirming the sanction sought by the Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI) against Mr Twomey, said the matter arose due to a mistake by the vet which he then made worse by seeking to cover it up.

Counsel for the VCI had applied for confirmation of censure and suspension arising from two findings of professional misconduct against Mr Twomey (72), of Coachford, Co Cork, each of which were found to amount to conduct involving fraud and dishonesty bearing on the carrying on of the profession of vet. 

Mrs O'Mahony and her husband were not clients of Mr Twomey but he had agreed to attend at their home on a Sunday night in January 2016 after Emily became seriously ill as a result of ingesting rat poison. The dog could not be saved and was euthanised.

The O'Mahony's said they told Mr Twomey they wanted the dog cremated and when they attended Mr Twomey's practice some weeks later were given a casket containing ashes.

Mrs O'Mahony became concerned about the weight of the casket and went back to the vet.

She claimed he criticised a pet crematorium, Pets to Rest, suggesting it had not returned all the ashes to him and had later claimed another entity, Burkes of Bartlemy, had cremated the dog.

He denied making those claims and later said he had forgotten to label Emily when the dead dog was put in his deep freeze with other dogs.

He claimed he wrongly believed a carcass given to Burkes of Bartlemy, which Mrs O'Mahony established does not perform cremations, was Emily but that turned out not to be the case.

He also said he did not want to upset the O'Mahony's by telling them about the mistake and ordered a casket from Pets to Rest in which he placed ashes from other dogs and presented to the couple.

Mr Justice Kelly was told the Fitness to Practice Committee (FTPC) which inquired into the O'Mahony's complaint against Mr Twomey was critical of his handling of the matter, considered the misconduct quite serious and was concerned for the reputation of the profession.

In considering sanction, the Council took into account various mitigating factors, including Mr Twomey had not appealed the FTP findings and sanction, has insight into his actions, has apologised and has a long and distinguished record as a vet.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Kelly noted the FTPC found, in contrast to "significant inconsistencies" in Mr Twomey's evidence to it, the evidence of the O'Mahony's was consistent.

It found professional misconduct by Mr Twomey in arranging to provide the couple on 24th February 2016 with a casket containing ashes of Emily, a Belgian shepherd when he knew that to be untrue.

It also found misconduct in that he indicated to the couple that Pets to Rest had cremated Emily and returned only partial ashes when he knew that was false or untrue.

Mr Justice Kelly said Mr Twomey, in assuming the Emily carcass was gone from his freezer when it was not, appeared to have "panicked" and made all the wrong decisions and to have made a clumsy effort to cover it up.

Mr Twomey had also behaved impeccably in going out on a winter's night to treat the dog and had introduced new systems in his practice to prevent a recurrence.

In the circumstances, the judge said he would confirm the suspension as proposed, with a one week stay on that order.

Mr Twomey was previously cleared in 2017 of trying to obtain money by deception after charging Ms O'Mahony €200 for cremation of Emily.

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