An Ontario veterinarian and his family have received death threats after several videos in which he is shown striking, choking and slamming animals in his care were published earlier this week, according to his lawyer.
Mahavir Singh Rekhi, a vet at the Skyway Animal Hospital in St. Catharines, Ont., pleaded guilty to professional misconduct at a College of Veterinarians of Ontario hearing in July.
The college launched an investigation after four former employees filed a complaint about Rekhi’s mistreatment of animals. They submitted a dozen surveillance videos as evidence of the animal abuse.
Rekhi was suspended for 10 months, which can be reduced to six months if he attends a variety of training programs, and fined $10,000, but he got to keep his licence.
Public rage bubbled over in the city and social media after some news outlets published some of the videos this week.
“He fears for his safety with threats of vigilante justice,” Rekhi’s lawyer, Neil Adamson, told The Canadian Press on Friday.
He’s been receiving “serious threats, very serious, physical threats, death threats and physical threats, also threats to his family,” Adamson said, adding the family has reported the threats to police.
The lawyer pointed out that people are watching the videos without context.
“The videos also demonstrate at the very same time (him) showing care for animals by gently clipping their nails and the like.”
Rekhi, who attended veterinary school in India, came from a jurisdiction where they treated animals “differently,” Adamson said.
“When he came to Ontario to pass licensing exams and be tested, there was no examination, testing or instruction on behaviour modification or restraint,” Adamson said.
“Clearly there were gaps and he fell down in that area, but he took complete responsibility in his failings in that regard and has undertaken a comprehensive program on retraining by leading experts in Canada on restraint and behaviour modification.”
Since the videos surfaced on news reports, the Ontario Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has launched a criminal investigation, according to Insp. Kevin Strooband who works out of the local humane society.
Larissa Engels, one of the former employees who filed the complaint with the college, said Rekhi’s 10-month suspension was not enough.
“It’s outrageous,” she said in an interview. “It’s just a slap on the wrist and a slap in the face.”
Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice, an animal welfare organization, agreed.
“It’s shocking that the college has imposed such a light sentence on this man and it’s disturbing that he might be back on the streets and in position to abuse even more animals,” she said.
Jan Robinson, the chief executive officer of the College of Veterinarians of Ontario, defended the decision.
“This is a very distressing and upsetting and disturbing case,” Robinson said, but insisted Rekhi received “serious punishment.”
A change.org petition started earlier this week calling for the college to revoke Rekhi’s veterinary licence had gathered nearly 15,000 signatures by Friday afternoon.
According to an agreed statement of facts from the veterinary college’s decision, Rekhi “improperly handled or restrained an/or mistreated, struck or abused animals in his care.” Video evidence, the decision said, focused on nine animals.
In one instance on Oct. 21, 2013, “Rekhi grabbed Taz, a Chihuahua, by the throat and punched the dog multiple times in the face,” according to the statement of facts.
On June 19, 2014, Rekhi hit Adka, a husky, “in the face when the dog was anesthetized for a neuter procedure.”
The statement also says that sometime in 2015, he picked up another dog, Molly, by its neck and slammed the dog on a table.