Ex-veterinarian who allegedly ‘debarked’ Lancaster dogs arrested

Months after the PSPCA’s Humane Law Enforcement team discovered illegally ‘debarked’ dogs in Lancaster County, they say the person responsible is in police custody on charges of animal cruelty. 

Denise Felling, 55, of Iowa County, Iowa, was taken into custody by the Iowa County Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 9, after the PSPCA obtained an arrest warrant in Lancaster County. On Nov. 13, Felling is scheduled to go before a magistrate in Iowa for an extradition hearing on whether she will be sent back to Pennsylvania to face felony charges of animal cruelty for allegedly illegally ‘debarking’ at least four dogs.

Felling allegedly “debarked” dogs owned by Lancaster County breeders by shoving a rod down their throats repeatedly to permanently destroy their vocal cords. Pennsylvania state law prohibits such a procedure, unless it is performed by a licensed veterinarian, while the animal is under anesthesia.

“It is just hard to imagine that someone who at some point was licensed in the state of Iowa to provide care and treatment for animals would turn her back on that, to move forward and torture animals in this way,” said Nicole Wilson, director of Humane Law Enforcement at the PSPCA (Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). “It is extremely painful, and after she was done, she left no medications for these animals to address pain or the possibility of infection.”

Rosie, one of the dogs Felling is accused of debarking, who has since been adopted to a new home. (Courtesy of PSPCA)

Felling is facing eight felony charges of animal cruelty, accused of debarking at least four dogs in Lancaster County in January 2018 and May 2018 in barns and other outbuildings. The PSPCA is asking any other dog-owners who may have had their animals illegally debarked by Felling to come forward.

Records from the Iowa Board of Veterinary Medicine show Felling, a licensed veterinarian in Iowa since 1991, had her license revoked in January 2007.

“She lost her veterinarian license many years ago,” said Iowa County Sheriff Rob Rotter in the state of Iowa, whose office arrested Felling. “We’d been hearing reports that she was doing veterinary care business illegally for years, but we never had a case on her. It was always rumors.”

The Iowa Board of Veterinary Medicine suspended Felling’s after finding she had “an extensive discipline history,” including having her license suspended in 1991 for six months and a $1,000 fine for prescribing medication “without establishing a valid veterinarian/client/patient relationship.

Felling’s license was suspended for a year after five new complaints were filed against Felling from 2002 to 2004, including for substandard conditions in her veterinary clinic; prescribing a prohibited drug to dairy cattle, and failing to maintain accurate veterinary records, current controlled substance records, or valid veterinarian/client/patient relationships.

According to the Board, Felling entered into a settlement agreement in April 2005 to regain her license under certain conditions. She was fined $1,000– as well as her previous, unpaid $1,000 fine – and also ordered to take eight hours of veterinary education courses.

The $2,000 was reportedly paid three days after a state-imposed deadline. In May 2006, eleven days after the state-imposed deadline for submitting certification of completing the educational courses, the Board says it received a letter from Felling asking for board approval to take a course in Vinton, Iowa.

They received another letter in June 2006 from Felling, including the claim, “I am trying to contact you for the third time to get permission for the classes that I am required to take…” She later claimed that she had first written on April 19.

“The Board was not convinced,” the board wrote in their order revoking her license. “Respondent’s complete failure to comply with the continuing education requirement demonstrates her lack of respect for Board Orders and her failure to take responsibility for her licensure requirements.”

The Board left open the option for Felling to re-apply for her license after one year, but it appears she did not pursue a new license.

Rosella, a debarked Siberian husky.

Rosella, a Siberian husky allegedly debarked by Felling, who has since been adopted to a new home. (Courtesy of PSPCA)

Felling was identified as a suspect in the debarking of a female Siberian husky named Rosella, who was rescued in May from the Quarryville residence of unlicensed dog breeder Anne Beiler, along with about 15 other dogs, two of whom had been debarked. Others had their tails docked as puppies, Wilson said.

Belier, who the Wilson said “knew it [debarking] was illegal and knew that the individual was not a veterinarian,” is now facing misdemeanor animal cruelty charges.

Another breeder was discovered to have had Felling debark three dogs in January 2018, after Libre’s Law took effect, which upgrades certain animal cruelty charges to the felony level. That breeder is not facing charges because they falsely believed Felling was licensed and acting legally.

“When our officer went to the property, they had some dogs that were opening their mouths but nothing was coming out, so at that point we identified that there were some dogs that had been debarked on the property,” Wilson said.  

A Doberman pinscher allegedly debarked by Felling, who has since been adopted to a new home. (Courtesy of the PSPCA)

All told, Felling allegedly debarked Rosella the husky, as well as a spaniel mix, a beagle mix, and a Doberman pinscher. All of the dogs have since been adopted out to new homes. But none will ever bark again.

“We intend to get justice for these dogs who were victims of such horrific cruelty and ensure that not one more dog is subjected to such a procedure,” Wilson said.

Animal cruelty can be reported anonymously to the PSPCA’s Cruelty Hotline at 866-601-7722. To learn more, visit PSPCA.org.

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