Couple says vet faked dog's death
November 11, 2005 - It had been a rough time for Buttons. The 3-year-old toy fox terrier, who has pancreatitis and a heart murmur, was ill for more than a month, vomiting daily and undergoing treatment both at home and at an animal hospital.
Buttons' condition was not improving, and the prognosis was not promising. Despite conflicting emotions, her owners decided to end her misery. "We just didn't want her suffering," Betty Jody Kimberlin said.
So her husband of 50 years, James Kimberlin, took Buttons to Companion Animal Hospital in Collierville, Tenn., and watched as she was put to sleep -- or so he thought, until she arrived back at their home days later, yapping and happy to see him.
"She looked up at me and she started talking, making funny noises," he said. "She jumped up in my arms, and you talk about love at second sight, that was it. This was really something."
The strange tale of Buttons' apparent resurrection has led to complaints being filed against a Collierville veterinarian, Jerry A. Truitt. An employee said Truitt was not at Companion Animal Hospital when ABCNEWS.com tried to contact him, and the hospital declined comment. Truitt and the hospital also would not comment when questioned by ABC affiliate WPTY in Memphis.
Revived and Renamed
According to her owners, Buttons is a feisty little dog whose demeanor belies her strong pedigree. "They're good, well-bred dogs -- Buttons doesn't act it," Mrs. Kimberlin said with a laugh.
Though the couple has had and lost many dogs, she said, she and her husband were crushed about Buttons' illness. "We loved all the dogs that we had, but Buttons was just like another child almost -- she still is," she said.
When he took her to the hospital for the last time, Mr. Kimberlin was torn. "I carried her around as long as I could," he said. "I cried like a baby."
Still, he signed a euthanasia form authorizing the animal clinic to put Buttons to sleep and reiterated his wishes to Truitt, who then gave her an injection.
"She just laid down and I asked him to listen with a stethoscope to listen to her heart. He did, and he said, 'She's gone,'" Kimberlin said. "I said, 'Thank you,' and I was boo-hooing. I walked on out to my car and boo-hooed for a long time before I could even leave. It was terrible. I've never done anything so hard in my life."
Theresa Stewart, a veterinary technician at the animal hospital who cared for Buttons during her stays there, was not working the Tuesday last month when Kimberlin brought her in. Stewart learned she had been euthanized when she returned the next day, and she signed a sympathy card that was sent to the Kimberlins -- which Truitt signed as well.
So she was quite surprised that Thursday when she saw Buttons in a cage in the treatment area of the hospital -- and an attached card said her name was Zipper.
"It was crazy," Stewart said. "The dog knows me. The dog's wagging her tail, screaming, hollering."
Stewart said she asked the doctor on duty what had happened and was told Buttons now was named Zipper and would be up for adoption.
Since she suspected Zipper was actually Buttons and rightfully belonged to the Kimberlins, Stewart told the doctors she wanted to adopt the dog so she could take her from the hospital. "By this time she had quit vomiting and was doing well," she said.
Stewart copied the dog's records and had her examined by an outside veterinarian to confirm that Zipper was in fact Buttons. He told her that their physical characteristics matched and she should take Buttons back to the Kimberlins.
"It was great," Stewart said of the reunion. "I'll never forget the look on his face when he saw his little dog."
"We were just astounded," Mrs. Kimberlin said. "We could not believe it."
Though she still is not completely well, Buttons' health has improved thanks to a special no-fat diet prescribed by a new veterinarian. "It's just all been a miracle, really a miracle," Mrs. Kimberlin said. "We're really, really thankful."
Though the Kimberlins are grateful to have more time with their pet, many questions remain. They said Truitt called them Wednesday after WPTY reported the story and said he would return the money they spent on Buttons' treatment, which is more than $1,000.
"This gentleman even sent us a sympathy card," Mrs. Kimberlin said. "All I know is they didn't want us to get ahold of her."
Stewart resigned from the hospital, filed a complaint with the Collierville Police Department and says she will do the same with the state licensing authorities, although it's not clear that any laws were broken or any ethics were violated.
"I don't understand their reasoning for doing it," she said, explaining that usually if a doctor does not think a dog should be euthanized, he or she refuses to do it or offers to take custody of the dog to care for it.
In this case, she said, records show Buttons was put under anesthesia used for surgery when Mr. Kimberlin was in the office. "To anybody that doesn't work in the medical profession it would appear this dog was dead," she said.
Though they are upset, the Kimberlins said, they do not want to "ruin" Truitt. "We want to change this man," Mrs. Kimberlin said. "We want to see that he's more honest with other people because he shouldn't be in business if he's not going to be ethical."
Meanwhile, the Kimberlins are enjoying having Buttons around, even if she's a bit more calm than her usual hyper self.
"She doesn't have the energy that she used to have at all. She's still not well," Mr. Kimberlin said. "I just hope we can keep her. I'm going to let her pass away here. I'm not going to take her to a vet unless it's one I like."