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Greensboro veterinarian subject of controversy and complaints

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Greensboro veterinarian subject of controversy and complaints
Jenna.JPG

12-year-old hound-mix, Jenna, who underwent surgery to remove three large lipomas on April 14 at Benessere Animal Hospital in Greensboro. 

*Content warning: This article contains details and graphic descriptions of veterinary surgery. 

*Editor's note: There were two typos in a previous version of this story. Dr. Bastian Parsons's pronouns were incorrect and the word "copy" got autocorrected as "company." This article has been updated to reflect the changes.     

Janine Oliver, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at Benessere Animal Hospital in Greensboro, has become the subject of both vitriol and support on social media. Her detractors—the owners of several animals she treated and five of her former employees—allege malpractice and animal abuse. Her defenders, many of whom praise her for saving their own pets’ lives, have condemned the outcry against her as a “witch hunt.”

Those defenders include Greensboro artist and activist Jeffrey Barbour, who told YES! Weekly that people should reserve judgement until the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Board rules on the complaints.

“Dr. Oliver has always been the greatest vet I’ve ever met,” Barbour wrote in a recent text, “who singlehandedly and painstakingly researched my dog’s issues and saved his life, sending me email after email in the wee hours as she continued hunting for a cure. I am horrified by the witch-hunting ‘Karens’ who are trying her on social media. I hope due process will be allowed to prevail and truth will serve all affected. It’s an awful situation no matter how it goes.”

As the public records of a 2017 investigation of Dr. Oliver by the NCVMB indicate, due process in such a case can take many months.

The 2017 NCVMB proceeding began with a complaint filed Aug. 11 of that year alleging that “errors in the surgery and treatment of 3.5-year-old female Pit-Bull mix, Angel, led to the dog's death on 3/7/17 following spay surgery at Benessere Animal Hospital in Greensboro.”

On Feb. 28, 2018, the Board issued a Letter of Caution to Dr. Oliver stating, “that, with a critical exception, your surgical procedure appears to have been within the standard of care.”

That exception was when Dr. Oliver’s surgical procedure “resulted in a loose ligature on the uterine stump that caused excessive bleeding into the abdomen.”

The letter also stated that “the conduct, while not the basis for a disciplinary hearing, is not professionally acceptable,” and that it “may be the basis for a disciplinary hearing if repeated.”

Complaints against veterinarians do not become public record until the NCVMB reaches a decision. In the case of the 2017 complaint, which resulted in the Board’s only disciplinary action against Oliver to date, the process took seven months and 17 days.

New complaints have been filed against Oliver in the past two months, according to the people who filed them and provided YES! Weekly with the Board’s confirmation letters that the complaints had been received. The rest of article examines one of those complaints in detail. (Because that detail is so extensive and contradictory, four other complaints are not examined here, but may be covered in a future article.)

On April 13, Shannon Bowen, owner-operator of Almost Home Kennels in Franklinville, N.C., took her 12-year-old hound-mix Jenna for the surgical remove of three large lipomas. That surgery was performed on April 14, and Bowen picked Jenna up the following day.

Bowen has run a dog-boarding kennel in her home for 12 years, and prior to that, worked for 15 years as a veterinary assistant.

Bowen stated that, three days after she picked her dog up from Benessere, “a surgical site on Jenna’s side opened, and I dropped her off April 20 for the area to be resewn.” Records show that Jenna was at Benessere Animal Hospital from April 20 until April 30.

On that last day, under the advice of Oliver’s then-employee Crystal Bennett, Bowen removed Jenna from Benessere Animal Hospital and took her to Carolina Veterinary Specialists, where Bowen’s dog was given a grave prognosis.

“The morning of May 1 was the first time I saw the extent of Jenna’s wound,” Bowen said. “I had not been allowed inside either Benessere or Carolina Veterinary Specialists due to the danger of COVID-19, and she was bandaged up while home overnight. When I saw the entire flap of skin open and necrotic, I chose euthanasia. My dog also could not walk that morning and had to be carried in on stretcher, which is in medical report from Pointe South.”

According to an emergency visit report dated April 30 from Bastian Parsons, DVM, at Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Greensboro, Jenna had four surgical wounds (wound in this context means a surgical incision). Dr Parsons reported that one of those wounds was deeply opened on Jenna’s left flank and had “severe purulent discharge and necrotic tissue both at its edges and deep inside it, emitting a foul odor.”

 Dr. Parsons also described Jenna’s abdomen as “one open wound,” with “severe purulent discharge within and around wound and severe necrosis to superficial tissues.” Dr. Parsons wrote that, based on the “likelihood of risks, suffering and guarded-to-poor prognosis,” she “recommended taking Jenna home for a day and then having her euthanized.”

The next morning, Bowen took Jenna to Pointe South Animal Hospital in Randleman for a second opinion. There, Clint Berdeen, DVM, agreed with Parsons’ grave prognosis due to the infection, healing difficulties and pain associated with the wound. He also recommended humane euthanasia, which was performed that day.

None of the above is disputed in the statement that Natalie K. Isenberg, the attorney representing Dr. Oliver at her upcoming NCVMB hearing, sent to that board’s executive director Tod J. Shadler, DVM, on May 29. As that statement was in response to Bowen’s complaint, Bowen received a copy of it, which she shared with YES! Weekly.

One thing that is disputed is the question of when or even if Dr. Oliver notified Bowen that Jenna’s wounds had opened up.

Bowen said after she returned Jenna to Benessere Animal Hospital on April 20, she called the hospital 11 times over the next 10 days, and that only on the first day was her call returned. She said that, in the returned call, Dr. Oliver told her that the surgical area on Jenna’s side had been resewn, leaving an opening about the size of a half-dollar coin for drainage, and that Dr. Oliver wanted to keep Jenna at the clinic to rest and heal. Bowen showed me logs from her phone, which appeared to indicate that she had indeed called Benessere 11 times during that period, and that the only call back was on April 20.

Bowen said that, on Thursday, April 23, Dr. Oliver messaged her that Jenna was doing well and should be able to go home by Saturday. Bowen stated that, when she called that Saturday, she was told that Jenna needed to stay longer, as she was an older dog and her thyroid was making her slow to heal.

The letter that Dr. Oliver’s attorney sent to the NCVMD states that, on April 27, Bowen called to check on Jenna and requested a call back. It then states: “Dr. Oliver returned her call and left a voicemail explaining that Jenna ‘was not anywhere near ready to go home,’ as Jenna “still needs extensive wound care.”

Bowen’s Verizon phone logs show Bowen calling Oliver’s office on that date, but contain no record of a returned call or voicemail.

Bowen stated that, on April 30, she visited Benessere to bring Jenna food and treats. She described Jenna as “wrapped up like a mummy in bandages and Saran wrap,” and “walking very slow, with one leg obviously swollen” and said that her dog “had the stench of death.”

Bowen said Dr. Oliver told her “she smells like that because she pees and lays in it,” and that, “she’ll get her bandage changed this afternoon when I’m done with surgery.”

“Standard practice is to do that each morning. You don’t let them lay for hours with pus and crap against a fence,” Bowen said, expressing her skepticism at Oliver’s explanation.

Bowen then stated that a Benessere employee named Crystal Bennett asked to speak with her in the parking lot. There, Bennett alleged that Dr. Oliver was not taking care of Jenna properly, and that Jenna desperately needed a wound VAC (Vacuum Assisted Closure). Bowen said Crystal also told her that Jenna was going to die if Bowen didn’t immediately take her to another vet.

“Crystal also said that, under those bandages, Jenna’s whole stomach was opened up and left hanging.”

Bowen said that, after a second employee advised her to immediately take her dog to another veterinary hospital, Bowen took Jenna to Carolina Veterinary Specialists.

The attorney’s letter to the NCVMD states:

Dr. Oliver instructed that the veterinary assistant, Crystal Bennett, to retrieve Jenna and return her to her hospital cage. Dr. Oliver learned subsequently that instead, the veterinary assistant, Ms. Bennett, falsely told the owner that Jenna’s care was being neglected and recommended that the owner remove Jenna from care.

In a phone call on July 9, Bennett confirmed that she told Bowen her dog was being neglected, and vehemently denied Dr. Oliver’s claim that this was a falsehood.

“The breaking point for me was when Jenna opened up so bad that her bones were exposed, and Dr. Oliver wouldn’t let me call in another doctor, but said she’d see to it when she came back the next day. Seeing Jenna wounds open and her condition decline over five days, the edges of her wounds turning grey and brittle, and Dr. Oliver trimming at them without anesthetic—I simply couldn’t take it anymore. I’ve worked in the vet field for over 30 years, and have never seen anything like this before.”

That, Bennett said, is why she kept screenshots of her internal communications with Oliver.

In a screenshot dated April 22 at 9:50 a.m. Bennett appears to make the following query.

Hey do you want me to get Dr PERKINS to take a look at Jenna there’s another area that starting to open up on the inside of the leg.

The response was:

No, I don’t. Please keep it cleaned and I will deal with her tomorrow. She will need on going wound care but I don’t need Perkins involved.

The letter from Dr. Oliver’s attorney to the NCVMB stated that, on April 23,

Dr. Oliver informed owner that Jenna had opened and damaged all her incisions. This was not enough tissue to close the wounds and she would be receiving wound care. Dr. Oliver noted that wounds were too extensive and complicated to manage at home and owner indicated she understood.

Bowen called this passage “a lie” and said that nobody at Benessere told her that Jenna’s wounds had opened until Bennett spoke to her on the 30. Bowen forwarded me a Facebook message that she said Oliver sent her on April 23, and which was timestamped 8:21 a.m.

It states:

Shannon I’m so sorry I did not see this message until just now. Jenna’s spirits are good and she is eating and drinking. Her healing is slow because of her hyperthyroidism and fatty tissue. She is making progress I would like to hang on to her until Saturday. I think if we can keep her movement to a minimum a few more days she will be on her way and not have more healing complications.

Bowen said that she believes the conditions she saw when Jenna was unwrapped at Pointe South on May 1 were already well under way on April 23, and that they resulted from neglect and being kept in a “filthy cage,” not from Jenna having “self-cannibalized” her injuries.

“Her whole stomach flap was open; her whole leg was open. Her condition was described it as ‘catastrophic area dehiscence.’ Dr. Oliver had just let my dog lay in her filthy kennel for 10 days, with Jenna’s body breaking down day by day.”

That is also what Bennett alleged happened while Jenna was in Dr. Oliver’s care, and is the reason why she took photos of Jenna’s “enlarging and pustulating wounds.” Bennett sent the photos to Bowen, depicted what Bennett said was the deterioration of Jenna’s injuries during the 10 days she was at Benessere.

(Bowen subsequently shared them with YES! Weekly, but they are far too graphic to include in this article.)

Bowen accompanied them with the following description:

“The first picture on April 18, when the surgical area on her side had started to reopen. It was resewn on the April 20. The rest of the pictures show how Dr. Oliver allowed the other areas to completely break down and become infected while she left Jenna laying in a cage. Every area Dr. Oliver had ever touched would open back up over that 10-day period.”

On May 8, Bowen filed a complaint about Dr. Oliver with the NCBVM.

On June 26, I emailed Dr. Oliver and told her I had spoken to multiple clients whose animals had been treated by her, and who had filed complaints. I also named three of her former employees I’d spoken to, although these did not include Crystal Bennett, whom I’d not yet contacted.

Dr. Oliver replied that she welcomed being interviewed. After I sent her a list of questions I intended to ask her, she thanked me and asked me to come by her office at Benessere at 5:30 p.m. on June 29.

“I would like to answer your questions and I appreciate you reaching out to get the truth,” she stated. “Most people just assume that if it’s on Facebook, it must be true.”

Two hours before our scheduled interview, I received an email from Brian Walker of Garrett Walker Aycoth and Olson in Greensboro, who identified himself as “an attorney for the law firm representing Dr. Oliver in these matters.”

He also stated that, “on the advice of the separate counsel representing her before the N.C. Veterinary Medical Board, she is unable to respond to your questions, as there is an on-going investigation. After the investigation is complete, she will be happy to sit down with you in order to discuss these matters.”

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