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City Officials Search Clinic That Treated Skinned Dog

April 20, 1997|JAMES RICCI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — The controversy over the death of Pal, the pug apparently skinned alive, escalated this weekend as a city animal-regulation agency unsuccessfully searched a Northridge veterinary clinic for the dog's post-injury treatment records.

The clinic is owned by veterinarian Melvyn Richkind, who has vigorously disputed a necropsy finding by the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services that the dog was killed by coyotes. Richkind and three other veterinarians who examined the dog insist Pal was attacked by human beings.

Armed with a warrant, animal services investigators searched the Pet Family Planning clinic on Friday, said agency spokesman Peter Persic. "We could find no record of this dog having been treated or admitted or seen," Persic said, adding that state law requires such records to be kept.

Persic said city investigators are only trying to resolve the differing interpretations of how the dog died. But Richkind maintains that the city agency is trying to discredit those who have challenged its findings.

The clinic is closed on Fridays, and animal services investigators were accompanied by LAPD officers and a locksmith, according to Persic and witnesses.

Richkind was unaware of the search until informed of it Saturday by a Times reporter who reached him at his Santa Fe, N.M., home, from which he commutes weekly to the clinic.

Richkind said he did make a record of the dog's treatment, but would not say where the file is. He said he is withholding it from investigators at the request of Carol Johnson, the daughter of the dog's elderly owner. Johnson was the person who brought the animal to Richkind after it was injured.

The badly wounded Pal was found in the yard of his owner, a deaf and nearly blind woman of 84 who lives in Encino, on April 8. The dog was in shock and missing a sizable portion of pelt stretching from its shoulders to its hind legs. The animal died shortly after being brought to Richkind's clinic.

Animal rights activists quickly disseminated their opinion, based initially on Richkind's conclusion, that the dog had been skinned by human hands.

But an animal services veterinarian, who subsequently conducted a necropsy on the animal, concluded the dog had been attacked by coyotes. Soon after, three other veterinarians examined the dog at the behest of animal rights advocates and vigorously disputed the finding, saying only a human with a knife could have inflicted the injury.

Richkind said an animal services investigator came to the clinic on Thursday and asked for the dog's file. Richkind said he refused to talk to the investigator and refused to hand over the file.

"I had nothing to say to them," Richkind said. "I told my receptionist to tell them that if I had to talk to them, it was going to be in court. They're slandering me, these people. They're trying to destroy my professional reputation."

Persic said the search Friday was motivated by animal services' desire to "find out the truth."

"We want to know why the only hard evidence we have indicated a coyote, and other people are claiming to have evidence it was human," he said. "The question is, why are the people who supposedly have this evidence not cooperating with the investigating agency?"

Persic said animal services could ask the city attorney's office to compel the clinic to give up the file, but has not yet decided to do so.

Richkind charged that the search warrant was "an inappropriate instrument" for animal services to employ because neither he nor the clinic has been charged with any wrongdoing. Nonetheless, he said he planned to take no legal action against the agency.

"I don't want this to be escalated any further than it's already escalated," Richkind said. "This needs to die down and be forgotten. The dog is dead. People have had the opportunity to do post-mortems, and witnesses to how the animal was treated have given their statements. All this about needing the legal record from the clinic is really moot, just another smoke screen."

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