@THE GUSS REPORT-What would you do if a veterinarian encouraged you to kill your cat but didn’t provide life-saving services for which they billed, falsely claimed urine on her coat indicated jaundice and shockingly discouraged you from being there when the cat’s life is taken at their recommendation?
That’s what Captain James Tucker, a disabled veteran who still serves in the U.S. Army Reserves Center at San Marcos, and his wife Valeria, say recently happened to them and their cat Kilala, an expensive and rare type of Maine Coon, at ACCESS Specialty Animal Hospitals, which this column continues to expose as a deadly, fraudulent rip-off promising board-certified specialty veterinary care, but instead uses new graduates from unaccredited schools in a scam known as fake it ‘til you make it.
Disclosure: This columnist is suing ACCESS Specialty Animal Hospitals for $750,000 for fraudulently representing the qualifications of its veterinarians and maliciously falsifying the circumstances around the death of his angelic rescue dog, Judi. That case is being handled by attorney Tristram Buckley whose own beloved dog Shelby was killed by ACCESS under similarly fraudulent circumstances. The Shelby lawsuit was settled out of court on the eve of trial. Buckley is also consulting dozens of other aggrieved pet families with ACCESS nightmares. He indicates that one of his ACCESS clients was so distraught at her experience there that she ultimately killed herself over it.
The Tuckers found Buckley after Googling for similar stories about ACCESS Specialty Animal Hospitals.
This is their story.
While recently in Los Angeles they adopted a pretty, white, and rare Maine Coon cat with heterochromia and 100% full hearing who they named Kilala. Before their trip home, the feline appeared extremely lethargic, so they brought her to ACCESS Specialty Animal Hospitals’ Torrance location, where she was diagnosed with feline panleukopenia virus (FPLV), which is the cat version of parvovirus. Kilala was admitted to ACCESS and the Tuckers would end up paying nearly $5,500.
But almost immediately, the Tuckers say they noticed disturbing misconduct at ACCESS, like their telling the vets of fecal test results from another veterinarian when Kilala was admitted, but ACCESS never contacting the other vet because they wanted to charge for their own tests.
The Tuckers add that Kilala had not eaten the day before she was admitted, which ACCESS assured would be remedied with a feeding tube for nutritional support. But the next day when Val asked about why the feeding tube had not been provided, she says they responded, “Oh, we didn’t know you wanted the feeding tube.”
After three full days without nutritional support, Val says that Kilala was slowly starving and dehydrating to death, which is almost as bizarre as what happened on the fourth day when ACCESS told the Tuckers that their cat was suddenly “bright” and “on her way to recovery.”
Then, in a shocking turn of events eerily reminiscent of this columnist’s experience, on Day 5, ACCESS called the Tuckers and said of Kilala, “Oh, well, she is basically experiencing liver failure,” referring to a yellow, jaundice-like tint in her eyes, ears, and fur on her lower half of the body.
Stunningly, the veterinarian told the Tuckers that they should euthanize Kilala, as it was the humane thing to do. After a gut-wrenching discussion, the Tuckers put their trust in this “specialist” vet and agreed to follow that advice.
And that is when the Tuckers’ nightmare reached the outer limits.
The veterinarian discouraged the Tuckers from coming in to be with Kilala when they euthanize her, which is something no credible veterinarian would ever, under any circumstance, tell a pet’s family.
Fortunately, the Tuckers defied ACCESS’s suggestion and told them two hours in advance that they were coming in to be with Kilala as they let her go, yet when they arrived, they had to wait an entire hour before being taken to a room to be with Kilala for her last moments.
The Tuckers say that when Kilala was finally brought into the room, she was bundled tightly like a mummy, which severely restricted her movement. They say that they soon concluded that ACCESS had lied to them about virtually everything.
They say that the veterinarian, Dr. Ambria Haddad, told them “take your time” with their final moments with Kilala. But when Haddad left the room she hovered outside the doorway from where she could be seen peeping into the room.
The Tuckers say Kilala wiggled herself free from the tight blankets and she grabbed Val’s hand with her paw as if Kilala was trying to say, “I’m okay! Don’t kill me!”
Haddad, who had left the room just 3-4 minutes earlier after saying “take your time” suddenly burst into the room, just as Kilala was beginning to act like a normal, healthy cat. The Tuckers say that even as it had become obvious there was no reason to euthanize Kilala, Dr. Haddad continued pushing to kill her.
The Tuckers had concluded that after ACCESS ripped them off for thousands of dollars for incorrect diagnoses and treatment that was either unnecessary or promised but never performed, that Dr. Haddad or someone at ACCESS discouraged them from being with Kilala during her scheduled euthanasia to nefariously keep her for themselves, as she was worth thousands of dollars as a rare pure breed.
When Captain Tucker demanded that Dr. Haddad show him evidence of jaundice, she pointed to Kilala’s eye, ear, and lower half of her body. The fur, he says, was yellow because she had been sitting in her own urine without being cleaned up! And her skin was pink as were her ears. Also, one of Kilala’s eyes is yellow because she's an odd-eyed cat; it is her eye’s natural color.
Val demanded that Dr. Haddad show them the test results proving liver failure given that the claimed visual jaundice symptom was untruthful. It was at this point that Dr. Haddad admitted that the blood work was not performed and that she based her liver failure diagnosis on Kilala's seeming discoloration.
When it became apparent the Tuckers were not going to kill their cat, the Tuckers say that ACCESS treated them rudely, even sending in a guard to provide security. . .or intimidation.
Val asked if she could keep the blanket in which Kilala was wrapped for the ride home.
Notwithstanding the fact the Tuckers had paid ACCESS $5,500, its staff responded by saying they were running low on blankets -- despite this one being from a cat that had highly contagious feline panleukopenia!
When the Tuckers and Kilala returned home from ACCESS, Kilala was acting like a normal cat with the simple basics of providing care for panleuk. And the moment they gave her a bowl of water, she drank like a cat who hadn’t had any water in days.
The Tuckers documented Kilala’s story with pictures and videos, as she has made a full recovery. They say they would have lost her forever if they had listened to ACCESS and its unscrupulous, incompetent veterinarians. Kilala’s raised tail, purring and stretches, which are tell-tale signs of feline contentment, speak volumes.
To date, California State Senator Bob Hertzberg and California Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian have ignored complaints about ACCESS, but LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s office is looking into the matter as the Tuckers weigh a grand theft complaint to LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and demand for a full refund through Buckley.
Neither ACCESS Specialty Animal Hospitals nor Dr. Haddad could be reached for comment.
More on this persistent, deadly fraud in the coming days.
(Daniel Guss, MBA, was runner-up for the 2020 Los Angeles Press Club journalism award for Best Online Political Commentary and has contributed to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, iHeartMedia, 790-KABC, Cumulus Media, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal, Pasadena Star News, Los Angeles Downtown News, and the Los Angeles Times in its Sports, Opinion and Entertainment sections and Sunday Magazine, among other publishers. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.