FERNDALE - A Ferndale veterinarian can keep his license to practice, but he'll be on probation for three years for botching surgeries, taking painkillers meant for his patients and "using unnecessary force" on animals.
Some former workers at Glacierview Animal Hospital claimed, from 2005 to 2008, veterinarian Peter Rule slapped and punched dogs, pulled their tails and in one instance choked a Chihuahua to unconsciousness to subdue the dog.
In paperwork signed in late September by the state's Veterinary Board of Governors, Rule admitted to a toned-down version of those allegations that "at least three (3) employees observed (Rule) using unnecessary force, excessive physical restraint and/or threatening conduct with patients."
He also confessed to taking the painkiller Tramadol without a prescription, pressuring an unlicensed assistant to perform surgery, letting an unlicensed assistant do other procedures she shouldn't have, leaving the clinic with an animal still recovering from sedation and failing to meet the state's standards of care during four separate procedures.
One dog, Daisy, died during a routine spay when Rule nicked her spleen. Another dog, Trooper, suffered permanent damage to his genitals during a neuter when Rule nicked his urethra.
Rule did not return a reporter's phone call this week.
But back in November, after the charges were made public, he told The Bellingham Herald he did, in fact, take Tramadol meant for animals, but that the drug use had been "blown out of proportion." He said the drug has relatively mild effects, and that he felt safe taking it right before surgery.
The Veterinary Board will let Rule keep his license if his record stays clean for the next three years. During that time he must:
Get treatment for substance abuse.
Undergo at least two unannounced inspections per year, to make sure all staff have credentials and that Rule isn't harming animals.
Take refresher classes in soft tissue surgery.
Take the board's jurisprudence exam.
Pay a $6,000 fine.
Rule has been a licensed vet for more than a decade. His license is up for renewal in May 2014.
His case remained in legal limbo for several years until Rule decided to contest the charges. But after several more months of delays, he admitted, in some degree, to each formal charge on Sept. 23. The board later approved sanctions.
The clinic has been accredited through the American Animal Hospital Association since last year. That endorsement is being re-evaluated in light of the sanctions, said AAHA spokeswoman Kate Spencer.
Rule started working toward an EMT license in Whatcom County about two years ago. The state Department of Health lists that license as pending.
He served as a volunteer firefighter for Whatcom County Fire District 7 but has been on administrative leave since the charges came to light. Because he's a volunteer, he has not been paid during that time.