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Cat Defender

Exposing the Lies and Crimes of Bird Advocates, Wildlife Biologists, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, PETA, the Humane Society of the United States, Exterminators, Vivisectors, the Scientific Community, Fur Traffickers, Cloners, Breeders, Designer Pet Purveyors, Hoarders, Motorists, the United States Military, and Other Ailurophobes

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Special Agent Fred the Cat Goes Undercover in Order to Help Nab a Quack Vet in a Brooklyn Sting Operation

Fred with Carol Moran and Charles Hynes

Cat-lovers have a new hero. His name is Fred and he is an eight-month-old gray and yellow American Shorthair from Brooklyn who last week went undercover to help authorities nab a quack veterinarian who had been preying upon sick cats and dogs for several years.

After a complaint was lodged against an itinerant veterinarian for a botched operation, the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office hatched a plan to catch the culprit flagrante delicto. Posing as Fred's owner, an investigator lured the vet to an apartment on the pretense of having the cat neutered.

After the vet had agreed to desex the cat for $135, he was arrested as he left the premises with Fred in a pet carrier. Unbeknownst to the vet, the entire transaction was captured by hidden cameras. Fred's guardian, Assistant Brooklyn District Attorney Carol Moran,  told the CBC's "As It Happens" last week that at no point was Fred in any danger.

Arrested was twenty-eight-year-old Kingsborough Community College student Steven Vassall of Brooklyn who was charged with, inter alia, impersonating a vet and torturing and injuring animals. He was later released on $2,500 bail and could face up to four years in prison if convicted. Although he was been working as an animal doctor for up to seven years, Vassall's training is limited to a brief stint as a veterinary assistant on Long Island.

Ironically, the Special Treatment And Recovery (STAR) sting operation which Fred took part in was prompted by a botched operation that Vassall performed on a Boston Terrier named Burt. Vassall, who operated on Burt to remove a foreign object, returned the canine to his owner, Raymond Reid of Bedford-Stuyvesant, with an open abdominal wound and covered in blood.

The blood on Burt's face came from his picking at his wound because Vassall had failed to outfit him with an Elizabethan collar. After nearly killing Burt, Vassall had the temerity to charge Reid $985 for his services and it was at this point that Reid contacted the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office.

It is not yet known how many other improper surgical procedures Vassall has performed in the past or how many cats and dogs he has either maimed or killed. So far authorities have questioned only six of his clients and they still have another fifty or so to interview. Since Vassall picked up his patients at their residences and treated them at an undisclosed location, that made it difficult not only for disgruntled pet owners to hold him accountable but also for the police to nab him.

Burt Adresses the Media

It is hard to believe that any pet owner would entrust either his or her cat or dog to the care of a fly-by-night vet such as Vassall. It is likely that people using his services were motivated by either the desire to save a buck or enticed by the convenience of door-to-door service.

The prices charged by veterinarians are, admittedly, exorbitant but individuals using the defendant's services must have had some inkling that he was not on the level. Of course, it is entirely possible that some of them simply did not have the resources to take their sick pets to a legitimate vet so they were instead forced to take a chance on Vassall.

Just as there exists a great need for gratis health care for the poor so, too, is there an urgent need for free pet care. There is perhaps nothing more humbling in life than not being able to provide for a sick loved one or a pet.

As for brave little Fred, not only does he have a history of pneumonia and lung problems but he once roamed the dangerous streets of Brooklyn. Last September he was picked up by Animal Control but somehow managed to avoid being exterminated.

He eventually wound up dividing his time between the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office and Moran's house and that is how he became involved in police work. For his efforts Fred was given a detective's badge to wear on his collar.

Although Fred is believed to be the first undercover cat, Hynes told the New York Daily News in its February 9th edition that he might have additional work for the accommodating feline. "I want to make clear: we'll do it again," he said. (See "Cat Drags Him In.")

He is also quoted in Newsday's February 9th edition as emphasizing the point by saying, "The last thing a pet owner wants when a pet is sick is ... to learn the veterinarian is a fake." (See "Undercover Kitty Helps Nab Bogus Vet.")

Photos: Joel Cairo of Newsday (Fred and Burt) and police handout (Vassall).