‘The horror stories, some even lost their animal’: Harrisonburg veterinarian has license suspended, former clients react

Published: Aug. 4, 2022 at 5:49 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - A Harrisonburg veterinarian had his license suspended and his practice is remaining closed until further notice.

Dr. Ayman Salem had his license suspended indefinitely by the State Veterinary Board, and his practice, Harrisonburg Emergency Veterinary Clinic, has been closed since March.

After two days of hearings in Richmond at the end of last week, the Board suspended Salem’s veterinary license indefinitely and for a minimum of two years. Former clients and employees of Salem said he often failed to provide adequate care for animals and took advantage of pet owners.

“People would come in and they’d be panicked and it was almost like he took advantage of that. He took advantage of their vulnerability and their fear. It was always worst case scenario,” said Allison Cook, who worked for Salem as a veterinary assistant in 2017.

During her time at the clinic, Cook said things were very unorganized and she saw continued instances of malpractice.

“He had left medication at the FedEx store over the weekend unrefrigerated which is a big no-no and then he tried to bring it in and was administering it to animals,” said Cook.

Another incident that stuck with Cook was when a woman brought in her cat who couldn’t move the back end of his body. She said she saw Salem inject a needle into the cat’s back leg to see if there was any blood flow.

“There was no blood flow so instead of doing any further diagnostics, any further blood work, he told her ‘He’s not gonna make it you need to put him down.’ He was just so unsympathetic and she was devastated,” said Cook.

Cook recalled an incident where she assisted in the surgery of a dog who swallowed a fish hook. While the surgery went smoothly she said Salem sent the dog back to the owner with bloody oozing stitches after he did not properly bandage the wound.

A number of former clients have shared similar stories of Salem failing to properly care for animals and sometimes leaving them in worse shape than before. People also say that Salem had a history of overcharging.

“Nobody, nobody walked out for anywhere less than $1,000 and they were all saying this is ridiculous. And then the horror stories, some even lost their animal,” said Cynthia Prieto, a former client of the clinic.

Seven years ago Prieto brought a dog she was fostering to the clinic when she couldn’t stop the bleeding from a cut on its paw pad. What she didn’t know was the price that she’d pay for the treatment which included three shots and the bandaging of the wound.

“I walked in and walked out $1,100 later. I have had dogs for years and I know that there is no visit that involves a cut on a pad that would be $1,100,” said Prieto.

Prieto said that she has heard many similar stories of Salem’s overcharging from other former clients and said she was surprised it took this long for his license to be suspended.

“My situation was seven years ago, he should have been shut down years ago and it needs to be permanent or there needs to be a better level of accountability because this is a scam artist,” she said.

Cook said in the time she worked at the clinic situations like this were common.

“I think that it was more about the money than anything. There wasn’t a whole lot of care for the animals, he was just money hungry,” she said. “Nine times out of ten whatever issue the animal had would be bad enough that the animal had to stay overnight which was automatically an extra $1,000.”

Cook said her final straw before leaving the clinic was when Salem refused to release a dog to its owner after treatment because she couldn’t afford to pay for everything. However, the reputation of Salem’s practice followed Cook when she applied for her next job.

“When I got my next job after I left, they saw the name on my resume and it was an automatic red flag for them. It was the first question she asked me, she said ‘You worked for him, that concerns me, we’ve had numerous issues,’ and I had to explain to her that I left out of moral judgment,” she said.

Another former client, Donna Knight, mentioned an incident where she took her dog to the clinic and Salem gave him a shot that was contraindicated with medicine he was already on.

“When I was able to get in with my regular vet, I took the record of what had been done with me. The shot could have killed my dog. My vet said it was a miracle that it didn’t,” said Knight.

Knight also recalled having to pay upfront before any treatment was given to her dog and then having to pay again for the treatment.

Salem’s attorney could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

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