ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - An Albuquerque veterinarian continued to treat sick animals in the metro area for months after her license expired, according to state officials, complaints and one pet owner.
However, just days after News 13 began asking questions about Dr. Debra Clopton's license, she went to the state's veterinary medicine board office, paid $1,000 in fees and penalities and received a renewed license.
"It's extremely serious," said Fran Sowers, executive director of the New Mexico Board of Veterinary Medicine. "She shouldn't be touching animals if she's not licensed. I'm not sure how she's issuing script(s) either."
An Albuquerque woman named Elizabeth -- who requested anonymity -- told News 13 she called Clopton in February after her 8-year-old cat, Prince, began acting strangely.
"He started drinking a lot of water, going to the bathroom a lot," she said.
Elizabeth got Clopton's name from the phone book and chose the veterinarian because, among other things, Clopton makes housecalls.
"One of the things that attracted me to the ad was she believed in human-animal bond," she said.
Clopton charged Elizabeth, who is disabled and on a fixed income, $300 to examine her cat and do blood work, Elizabeth said.
"When she got here, she came with an assistant," she said. "They plopped down on the floor right here. Nothing was sterile. They threw the syringes on the floor."
Clopton later told Elizabeth that Prince had diabetes and high cholesterol, and needed medication. She wrote Prince a prescription that Elizabeth filled.
Elizabeth later discovered Clopton didn't have a valid veterinary license. It had expired Nov. 30, according to the state.
The veterinary medicine board told News 13 it sent Clopton a letter in December, three days after her license expired. Clopton responded by sending in an application and a renewal check, but didn't pay the $100 late fee, so the state denied the renewal, according to correspondence from the state.
Clopton ignored a letter sent a month later upping the fines to $275 and threatening disciplinary action, Sowers said. That letter reminded Clopton not to practice veterinary medicine without a license. After not hearing from Clopton, the board sent her another letter on Feb. 15 advising her to "immediately cease and desist from practicing veterinary medicine," according to the letter.
Still, Clopton treated Elizabeth's cat two weeks after that. A pharmacist also recently called the board and alerted officials to another animal Clopton may have treated recently.
"I had a phone call on her (last week) as a matter of fact wanting to know if she was currently licensed," Sowers said.
Clopton didn't respond to phone messages and wasn't home when News 13 recently visited. Her attorney, Sam Bregman, blamed this whole confussion on the the state, saying a bureaucratic nightmare was responsible for the problem.
"It says your renewal has to be in," Bregman said. "She did have her renewal in so it's a matter of interpretation."
Clopton sent in her renewal and thought the paperwork was being resolved, he said. She never knew her license had expired, Bregman said. Asked why it took so long to renew her license, he said, "We're not exactly clear, and that's something that this office is continuing to investigate."
Still, the case may not be over yet.
Elizabeth filed a complaint Tuesday about Clopton with the New Mexico Board of Veterinary Medicine. The state will investigate and determine if the allegations against Clopton are true. If it finds proof she treated animals while her license was suspended, the board could fine her or permanently revoke her license.
To find out if a veterinarian is licensed, follow the link to the state veterinary board's Web site.
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