Pennsylvania Veterinarian Board Ordered To Pay Vet’s Legal Fees

Dr. James Nelson, a Pennsylvania veterinarian, was cleared of malpractice charges and was awarded by the court $10,000 for his legal fees.

The malpractice charges came when Nelson euthanized a woman’s dog in September 2001. She alleged that Nelson was unprofessional and claimed that he told her that she’d “rot in hell” for filing a complaint against him.

The State Board of Veterinary Medicine ruled that Nelson be publicly reprimanded, undergo anger management classes and apologize.

But Nelson appealed and the judges stated that Nelson may have been rude, but added that didn’t have any bearing on his competence or professional aptitude.

The board has been ordered to pay Nelson $10,000, the maximum amount allowed under Pennsylvania law.

Source: WFMJ

(Thanks Stefani)

24 Responses to “Pennsylvania Veterinarian Board Ordered To Pay Vet’s Legal Fees”

  1. Pukanuba says:

    Is it any wonder that some in the medical field, whether human or animal, think they’re God & have an attitude? It’s because they get away with murder……

    Not all of them have the God complex but I sure have seen plenty of them that need to be taken down a step or two……

    I personally don’t see where anger management or an apology is a big deal……one of us would have to do it in a heartbeat…..

  2. Hazel Chambers says:

    Yep…once again justice fails and the creeps win.

  3. furmom says:

    As usual there is a lot more to the story than what appears on the face of a headline. This lady booked her elderly sick dog in for euthansia several times and always backed out. The vet felt the dog was suffering more alive and needed euthansizing, as so did it when the lady brought the dog in (and had agreed once again to do the deed)for that purpose. The lady was distressed because the euthansia didn’t go smoothly, threatened a lawsuit, the vet lost it. The courts cleared the vet of the charges, after hearing a lot more of the story than we have. How can we judge from a brief news story? He was rude, and admits that, but guilty of murder ?

  4. T says:

    Either way, it was obviously heart wrenching for the woman and clearly a hard decision for her to make. Do we know if he explained to her exactly what to expect? Surely the Vet must have understood how distraught this woman was and how much worse it was made by a euthanasia process that did not go smoothly…and she may have felt he made her dog suffer further. Do we even know if the dog even receive a sedative first? Most vets I know would be sensitive to this type of situation.

  5. Anonymous says:

    FURMOM: So he deserves 10K for being an obnoxious sob? UH HUH. RIGHT. Don’t forget that for some quaint reason he LOST the original hearing. Good. I hope he sweated like a pig.

  6. Anonymous says:




  7. Stefani says:

    To understand the detail of this case, you would need to read the court decision — it’s available online at:

    According to this, the vet failed twice to get the euthanasia solution in the dog via the leg, and finally:

    “Nelson injected the solution into the dog’s jugular vein, causing the dog to howl and collapse.”

    Apparently, that is when the owner started freaking out — when she saw the dogs distress during/after the jugular shot.

    He did this without any sedation, and in the vet board hearing, he was asked questions about whether or not “sedating Lady in advance might have improved the euthanasia.”

    (Um, gee whiz, I dunno, I have never had toxic drugs shoved via needle into my jugular with no sedation, so maybe I can’t comment on that. )

    The psychological trauma to a pet owner, watching an unexpectedly — and arguably unnecessarily — traumatic euthanasia in which the pet appears to be feeling great distress as their very last thing in the world, cannot be underestimated. J(ust ask Barbara Albright — she has a website about what she watched her dog Pocket go through.

    It also says that during the case, “Dr. Nelson [the veterinarian] acknowledged to the Board that he continues to pray every night that Ms. Voorhees [the client/owner] will rot in hell.”

    A Veterinary Baord member witnessed the vet telling the owner that she would rot in hell. The vet board investigator, Edward Tonelli, was interviewing Dr. Nelson, the veterinarian, subsequent to receipt of the complaint. During the interview with the Board investigator, Nelson became “angry, loud, and agitated” — and right then and there — called Voorhees, the owner, and — accordingly to this document — tried to persuade her to withdraw her complaint against him. Or perhaps a stronger word than “persuade” would be more accurate.

    Subsequently during this phone conversation Nelson told Voorhees she would “rot in hell” for what she was trying to do to him. After Voorhees hung up, Nelson called her back two more times, right in front of the investigator. He also called her a “*******wacko” to the Board investigator.

    The Board had ordered this vet to take anger management classes. The court’s reversal voids this order. If not this man, then WHO needs anger management classes?

    Stefani Olsen
    The Toonces Project
    “Is Your Pet Safe at the Vet?”

  8. Stefani says:

    Furmom, I read the court’s decision in detail, my interpretation is not that they “cleared the vet of charges.” My interpretation of this decision is that:

    The Vet Board’s Decision/Order cited “professional incompetency” as the cause of their decision. The court looked at the two clauses regarding “professional incompetence” and decided that the Board had cited “professional incompetence” as the violation, but the actions of the veterinarian did not meet the available definitions of professional incompetence.

    This doesn’t necessarily mean that the behavior that gave rise to the Vet Board’s finding did not break any applicable standards. It may simply be that the Board cited the wrong sections of their practice act. All the court said was that his actions didn’t meet the definition of “professional incompetence” but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t break some OTHER statute or regulation.

    I am not familiar with all sections of PA’s Vet Practice act, but if there are any rules against unprofessional conduct, fair dealing, etc. I would look there.


  9. Hazel Chambers says:

    I have not changed my mind about this man being a creep…one with anger issues and also one who does not sound either competent or caring to me.

    He was not able to do the procedure properly…and evidently did not sedative….and his actions and statements go far past being “rude”

    He is a first-class jerk.

  10. Anonymous says:

    bingo. obnoxious sob. bingo, the old boys on the vet board holding his hand in his (their) distress. This man is dangerous. what an affhole.

    Thank you Stefani.

  11. stefani says:

    By the way, Furmom did you notice in the court document —

    THIS LADY WAS 76 YEARS OLD. The dog was 17. I think her difficulty in euthanizing him is perfectly understandable and she is worthy of compassin. He was probably her only companion since she was 60 (so many women that age find themselves widowed, and I doubt she would have been in their alone if she had ANYONE in her life other than this dog who was close to, and loved her.)

    You say the vet thought the dog should be euthanized. The court document indicates he had thought the dog should be euthanized.

    BUT WHO gets to decide when our pets are euthanized — us, or our pets?

    I don’t think this is the vets decision, I think it’s the lady’s decision. I think it was very hard for her. And I think that the vet was so eager to get the dog killed, that he didn’t do the things he could have done to make it go smoother.

    THE VETS DON”T GET TO DECIDE when we euthanize our pets. WE DO. Vets don’t love them, WE DO. Vets see these situations every day, and become numb to the complex emotional situations. We don’t.

    And think of this: Even if the dog was old, even if euthanizing him was the humane thing to do, imagine if this was a human. Imagine if this was her life partner — because she was 76, and this dog was probably the most significant being in her life.

    If an elderly man was dying, and the decision was made to give him an overdose (in a hypothetical state that would legally allow such a thing), and for some reason the overdose could not be delivered via IV or shot in the arm . . .

    If the doctor, without emotionally preparing the family member/spouse/child who was watching, shoved a needle with a lethal solution into the fully conscious man’s neck, and he howled in pain and had moments of extreme distress as he died . . .

    Would that be OK? It woudn’t be OK with me. I would certainly file a complaint about the doctor. And if the doctor had the insensitivity in such a circumstance to rant at me, if I was a 76 year old woman who had just watch my most loved individual in the world die in distress in a euthanasia that “did not go well” — to tell me I would rot in hell, to tell people he PRAYS for me to rot in hell . . .

    Well, all I gotta say is, I know who is the one who will REALLY rot in hell. It ain’t the little old lady.


  12. pheephee35 says:

    Excellent article, Sefani

  13. Don Earl says:

    RE: “To understand the detail of this case, you would need to read the court decision — it’s available online at:…”

    Thanks for providing the link.

    I note a number of items of interest……..

    1. The woman made multiple appointments she cancelled at the last minute.

    2. The woman called the vet at all hours of the day and night.

    3. He had been treating her pets for 14 years, without incident.

    4. The jugular vein is commonly used in small animal medicine when it isn’t feasible to use a smaller leg vein, or if there is a problem with the leg veins, as was the case in this situation.

    5. When the dog died after being injected with the euthansia drug, the woman started screaming the vet was a murderer and demanded he bring the dog back to life, at which point the vet walked out of the room without comment.

    6. The first incident of a rude comment by the vet appears to have been after the woman filed charges against him.

  14. stefani says:

    Re: “at which point the vet walked out of the room without comment.”

    Read it again. It wasn’t without comment.

    Many people have to make several euthanasia appointments before going through it with it. That doesn’t say anything bad about this woman.

    Also, when a pet is at the end of life with chronic or acute illness, it is often common for a pet owner to call to speak with the vet frequently, even leaving messages after hours. That doesn’t warrant or excuse this vets behavior, which even the court found reprehensible.


  15. Don Earl says:

    RE: “Read it again. It wasn’t without comment.”

    From the appellat court opinion:

    “With Ms. Voorhies in attendance, Dr. Nelson attempted to inject the solution into Lady’s right front leg. Because of edema in that leg and her struggle, despite being held by a technician, the first attempt at injection was unsuccessful. Dr. Nelson’s attempt on the dog’s left front leg was also unsuccessful. Finally, Dr. Nelson injected the solution into the dog’s jugular vein, causing the dog to howl and collapse. At that point, Ms. Voorhies cried and yelled at Dr. Nelson, accusing him of killing her dog; she demanded that he bring Lady back to life. Dr. Nelson firmly and directly informed Ms. Voorhies that he did not hurt Lady and left the room to allow his technician to calm Ms. Voorhies.”

    That’s where things stood until the woman pressed charges against the vet. It wasn’t until after she filed charges that he told her to go to hell, and referred to her as a deleted wacko in a conversation he believed was off the record.

    Off hand, I’d be inclined to say that someone who brings their pet to a vet to be euthanized, then when the proceedure is complete starts screaming “murderer”, demanding the pet be brought back to life, probably is a deleted wacko.

    As close as I can tell, the vet didn’t do anything that wouldn’t have been done exactly the same if he was taking a blood draw or injecting a life saving drug. A shot is a shot is a shot, and you have to find a vein.

    How much abuse should a person be forced to endure from a customer, followed by a threat to his livelyhood, before he tells them to go to hell?

    Why has our society degraded to the point where people actually feel justified in hurling that level of abuse at a person who didn’t do anything to deserve such abuse? This is a woman who showed the vet no courtesy or consideration whatsoever, was abusive, then threatened his career.

    Would you be nice to someone who did that to you?

  16. Hazel Chambers says:

    Again… would appear this vet did not use a sedative. The owner may or may have issues….but that does not excuse the over-the-top hatefulness and simple foulness of the vet.

    No rational person screams at an elderly woman that she should rot in hell…and then prays nightly for it. It does make me wonder what sort of God this man prays to.

    This elderly woman had to watch her beloved dog poked and poked again….then screaming…..I think that would have most of us angry and upset.

    Again…WHY no sedative?

    He prays for an old woman to rot in hell…and admits this to the board. What kind of human being would do this?

    During the interview with the Board investigator, Nelson became “angry, loud, and agitated…

    If he had given the poor dog a sedative to make her passing easier…this may never have happened….he seems to lack both compassion and self-control.

  17. Anonymous says:

    re Don:This is a woman who showed the vet no courtesy or consideration whatsoever, was abusive, then threatened his career. Would you be nice to someone who did that to you?

    I’m surprised at this response. She threatened him? He phoned her multiple times and swore at her, threatening her for taking action against him. We have this documented by the (shocked) independent observer. Is this the action of a sweet reasonable person, why did he do this? If he behaved THIS badly in front of an observer, one wonders how he behaved with no one watching. Praying for her to rot in hell? That’s not only over the edge bizarre, it confesses a motive wishing harm. His profession calls for balance essential to good decision making. One expects and can excuse traumatic response from the pet parent around a decision like this. In a professional it is inexcusible and completely unprofessional.

  18. Anonymous says:

    so what we have here is a little old lady who just can’t kill her dog?

    and a vet is anxious to kill it and capable of wanting a little old lady to rot in hell?

  19. Anonymous says:

    and last but not least: vets often think a pet should be euthanized. all this means is they do not KNOW of any means to help restore even a portion of health to the animal except their usual limited allopathic “treatments” (this means: drugs, or surgery or radical intervention). Vets know nothing about building, let alone restoring health to animals.

    I don’t know what the dogs condition was, but I’ve busted a gut myself when a family pet was given up for dead by a vet and I know there’s a lot that can be done - but most vets take the easy way out because they know only their same old bag of tricks.

    Learn to build health in your animal yourself. Vets aren’t going to do it.
    The info is out there. You are your pets real advocate and defense.

  20. Anonymous says:

    so what we have here is a little old lady who just can’t kill her dog?

    and a vet is anxious to kill it and capable of wanting a little old lady to rot in hell?

    and a good ol boy board that awards the vet a sockfull of cash

  21. Shandelar says:

    I know this vet. In 1984 his license was suspended for six months for CRUELTY, not to the “pet parents” but to animals! His own vet techs turned him in.

    I have the transcript of the hearing that describes things he did that were unbelievably horrible. I don’t have it in front of me (it’s about a block away, in my car) or I’d type excerpts from it here.

    Whenever someone tells me they use Nelson, I whip out a copy of that transcript and give it to them. It’s pretty lengthy, but I consider it a good investment to pay for the photocopying if I can get anyone to stop (or not start) using him.

    I know another woman who had him come to her property to treat a horse with a foot problem. He allegedly became impatient with the horse and STABBED her in the foot. This woman screamed bloody murder at him and threw him off her land.

    I had one encounter with him in which he mistreated my dog, AND me. He had a rope around Lily’s neck so tight I couldn’t budge it. When I objected, he refused to loosen it and impatiently and brusquely told me to wait in the corner while he did the examination. I told him to take her down from the table and I stormed out. When I heard that complaints had been made by his own former employees, I found out how I could write the Veterinary Medical Board and sent in the account of my experience with him.

    Dr. Robert Stephenson, the vet to whom I took Lily five minutes after leaving Nelson’s is one I’ve stayed with for some 25-30 years. He is the gentlest, kindest, most compassionate vet I’ve ever met, both to people and animals. He understands the terrible indecision the parent struggles with at the end and he is endlessly patient about all the phone calls.

    When a local humane society opened a spay/neuter clinic, Nelson and several other vets in the area, the bad, money-grubbing, overcharging ones, of course, went to court to try to close the clinic. They lost the case. Some years later the clinic was closed anyway, unfortunately.

    My wonderful vet, on the other hand, helped to design the layout of the clinic!

    The really sick thing is that Nelson was the president of the local Veterinary Medical Board for a time. I don’t know if he still is. His license should NEVER have been returned to him in 1984.

    The vet Nelson bought his practice from, a Dr. Towers (or Tower?) was a real SOB too. He was extremely nasty to me when a cryosurgery he’d done on a lick granuloma on Lily’s arm went poorly. Nelson and Towers practiced together for awhile…can you imagine THAT unholy duo? Then Towers retired and Nelson bought him out.

    As recorded in the hearing transcript, one of the things Nelson’s lawyer said was that if he was no longer able to practice vet medicine, Dr. Towers wouldn’t be paid. Wouldn’t that have been awful!

    Nelson was in his 30s, I think, when the cruelty hearing took place. It is my strong belief that people’s characters don’t improve at that age, at least not without heavy-duty therapy and the strong desire to change. He was ordered to get therapy during those six months of license suspension, but six months is a piddling drop in the bucket.

    Ms. Vorhees MUST have been nuts to be using this vet in the first place! I wish she had seen the 1984 transcript (although believe it or not, at least one person who read it stayed with him)!!! Too bad some incompetent prosecutor used the wrong section of the law with which to charge him this time and he scored $10,000 after a judge reversed the initial decision against him. Even if Vorhees made his life hell, I can’t think of a less deserving person. And yes, OF COURSE, he ABSOLUTELY should have sedated the dog.

  22. Shandelar says:

    Ooooops. Wrong Nelson!!!! The one I wrote about is “HL Nelson.” I have no idea what the “HL” stands for.

    What a weird coincidence. The one in the news article is possibly based in Seneca, PA, whereas “mine” is in Clarks Summit, PA.

    I hope there’s a good Nelson veterinarian somewhere out there and that there’s not some sort of horrible Nelson curse! (Just kidding of course.)

  23. Richard says:

    Folks..and all you anti-medicine types I suppose are folks…read the case. This mighty fine caring woman let her animal suffer for 2 days without care, allowing the condition to advance. Often these decompensated animals can only have venous access made via the jugular as the peripheral veins are all but shut down from poor cardiac function. If you will read this case and get control of your own anger issues you will see that this Vet did what the owner ASKED him to do. The case was reviewed by a judge that use his intellect, not his uninformed emotions, to decide the case and the woman’s arguments were found to be without merit. It is common for people to make wild claims against a Veterinarian when they themselves are at fault for their pet’s condition. Blaming someone else for your failure to provide your pets with preventive health care or for that matter any care at all is very common. Usually the first to be blamed is the Vet. It comes with the territory and the Board should know this.
    Veterinarian’s are usually put off by crappy pet owners that avoid care so they can buy a six pack then vent when forced to go to the Vet.

  24. Janie says:

    This story does not surprise me :(
    There is a vet in Matamoras, PA who is mentally ill and does whatever he likes apparently and the board does not seem to to anything about it.

E-mail It