Fickle Justice: Some Quacks get Punished, Most Get Away with It

One of the goals of this blog has always been to warn pet owners about dangers to their animals: dangerously unreliable ideas and ways of thinking about science and medicine, dangerous therapies (or at least those not yet proven to be safe or effective), and dangerous individuals who promote both unscientific approaches and unproven or unsafe treatments. There is remarkably little effective regulation and oversight of pet healthcare products, apart from prescription medications. Unscrupulous sellers of snake oil, including vets, can often get away with egregiously illegal and dangerous claims and practices.

Despite this, a few of the individuals I have warned pet owners about over the years have faced at least some legal or regulatory sanctions, though the process has been slow and has often not impeded their ability to sell their nonsense. Recently, one particularly bizarre example, Jonathan Nyce, has finally been sentenced to prison for selling fake cancer treatments for dogs, a decade after I started  warning people about him. 

This belated but positive outcome seemed like a good prompt for me to revisit some of the folks I have been writing about for some time who have faced official sanction for their abuse of science and the public’s trust. While the outcome in Mr. Nyce’s case is positive, the balance of these cases have not resulted in effective protection of the public and our pets.

Jonathan Nyce
My first post about Mr. Nyce was in 2014. In it, I looked at his claims for his supposed miracle cancer cure Tumexal (later renamed Naturasone). The product and the marketing had many of the hallmarks of quackery, from secret ingredients to use of testimonials and unpublished, potentially fabricated, test results. Mr. Nyce had a worrisome background, including previously questionable and unsuccessful attempts to market a drug for humans and a criminal conviction for murder, though I made a point of not making my critique of the product or the claims for it a personal critique of Mr. Nyce, since that is not a reliable way to judge such claims. 

In 2020, I briefly reported on the criminal charges filed against Mr. Nyce for his illegal marketing of a fake cancer treatment. Finally, last month, Mr. Nyce was sentenced to 97 months in prison for his activities, which included bilking over 900 dog owners of nearly $1,000,000. Who knows how much harm his deception of well-meaning owners did to the patients themselves? As tempting as it is to rejoice at a well-deserved sentence, the more important question is whether this conviction will do anything to stop others from marketing bogus treatments. I have to admit to not being very optimistic on this point, for reasons which may be clearer as I review some other examples.

Gloria Dodd
Even before covering Jonathan Nyce’s misdeeds, I wrote about veterinarian Gloria Dodd in 2011 (not to be confused with Jean Dodds, about whom more later….). Dr. Dodd was a proponent of a broad array of pseudoscientific nonsense, from auras and homeopathy to crystal healing and dowsing. She was also a seller of many alternative remedies that were either entirely useless (e.g. homeopathic) or untested and based on unscientific principles.

Her practices were determined to cross legal lines more than once. In 2004, the FDA sent her a warning letter for selling a fake “homeopathic vaccine” for West Nile virus. That product was still available when I wrote about her in 2011. 

She was also disciplined by the California Veterinary Medical Board for practices that were blatantly unscientific, “a smoke and mirror power of magic type of practice,” in the words of the VMB. Her license was suspended for prescribing treatments for patients she had never seen in person. However, the courts effectively overturned this ruling, and Dr. Dodds continued to practice her “magic” for years to come. 

Dr. Dodd passed away in 2013, but her company continued to promote her ideas and products for several more years. Regardless of how kind and genuine a person Dr. Dodd may have been, it is tragic that she was able to mislead pet owners about health and veterinary medicine for decades and sell products that could not have been beneficial and may well have harmed patients, either directly or by replacing other, truly effective remedies. The failure of the legal and regulatory system to protect the public from such practices is disappointing, though not unusual.

Al Plechner
Dr. Plechner was another California veterinarian with deeply unscientific ideas about science and medicine. For decades, he treated patients for the mythical entity of “Plechner Syndrome” with high doses of steroids, thyroid hormones, Montmorillonite clay, and a variety of other nonsensical nostrums. While he claimed to have “research” to back his theories, he never published anything, and his descriptions sounded like nothing more than anecdotal case reports. Certainly, he never produced any evidence that convinced actual exerts in veterinary endocrinology that Plechner syndrome existed or had the causes and treatments he championed.

Like most purveyors of pseudoscience, Dr. Plechner did have dedicated supporters, who came out enthusiastically to “correct” me after my first post discussing his methods. His detractors, sadly, were less willing to go public. The private veterinary discussion boards on the Veterinary Information Network (VIN) contain many complaints and laments about Dr. Plechner’s ridiculous ideas, and about patients inappropriately treated with unsafe methods, but these never reached the public. 

In 2015, I was contacted by an individual whose cat had been treated by Dr. Plechner with blatantly inappropriate doses of steroids. The cate suffered skin fragility syndrome (similar to this case) and faced surgery and a prolonged recovery from the effects of the drugs. Though several vets saw this cat and explained that the drugs were the cause of the problem, the owner had difficulty getting someone to support her complaint against Dr. Plechner, due to a combination of personal relationships between him and some of the vets and the general reluctance of veterinarians to call out even grossly inappropriate behavior by their colleagues. 

The owner was able to find an internal medicine specialist to support her complaint to the VMB. Unfortunately, the wheels of justice ground slowly and started turning too late. Dr. Plechner retired and gave up his license in 2016. This did not automatically stop the VMB investigation, but Dr. Plechner then passed away in 2017, and no findings were ever released. However, his website is still active, his books are still for sale, and other vets (themselves with legal troubles) continue to promote his approach.

Jean Dodds
Dr. Dodds pops up often on this blog as she is a prominent voice in the alternative veterinary medicine arena, with lots of dubious ideas and unproven products and practices. I first mentioned her in 2011, in connection with some research on an oral health supplement, and I have provided detailed coverage of her unconvincing work on reduced “doses” of vaccinesfor small dogs (updated here), her unscientific and misleading writing about nutrigenomicsher bogus “allergy test” as well as other dubious tests she promotes, and many other topics. 

Most recently, in 2021 I  briefly discussed the citation against Dr. Dodds from the California Veterinary Medical Boardfor practicing medicine without a license, as she has done for many years. The citations was “satisfied” in August, 2023, presumably meaning she paid the fine and promised not to practice medicine (though I have not been able to find any no public record of how this was resolved). Despite this, Dr. Dodds profile, and the activity of her company, Hemopet (which itself has been fighting with the state over tax obligations) continue to operate openly and freely. The fact that her medical practice has been illegal for years does not seem to have lessened her influence or her business activities in any meaningful way.

Andrew Jones

Dr. Jones did not initially get his own post, but he popped up in passing in another article I wrote in 2010 as an example of the mania for magical “secrets” that alternative medicine proponents often claim to have for treating health problems that science-based medicine can’t cure. Later that year, Dr. Jones chose to give up his veterinary license rather than stop defaming veterinarians who practice mainstream medicine as a way of promoting his own alternative approach. It turned out Dr. Jones’ followers were even more aggressively supportive of their angry saint than those of Dr. Plechner, and when he rallied them, they went on the attack against me in all sorts of corners of the Internet. Several years later, Dr. jones was still perturbed by my criticism, and his supporters continue to leave comments on the blog more than ten years after my first article about him.

Of course, the reason for that is that losing his medical license has done nothing to deter Dr. Jones from selling his bogus “secrets,” and all sorts of products, online. The snake oil business is still booming, and many of his customers see him as a martyr rather than someone who couldn’t keep his medical practice consistent with science and the law. He proudly promotes his book, “From the #1 bestselling author and former practicing veterinarian,Andrew Jones DVM.” Bizarre! And while some do continue to push back against his pseudoscientific claims, Dr. Jones has a thriving career selling nonsense and lies despite no longer being licensed to practice medicine.

Eric Weisman
I first wrote about Mr. Weisman in 2009, the first year of this blog. His ideas about health and nutrition were bizarre and laden with extremist conspiracy theories, and his claims about the diets and practices he recommended were unscientific nonsense. He ultimately lost his chiropractic license and was sanctioned for practicing veterinary medicine without a license long before I started examining his claims. In 2011 he faced criminal charges for practicing human and animal medicine without a license and for animal cruelty. He reached a plea deal and got a slap on the wrist in 2012 despite his ling history of illegal and dangerously delusional behavior. 

In 2018, he signed a stipulation from the Minnesota State Dept. of Public Health admitting to unlicensed practice of alternative medicine and misrepresenting his credentials and promising not to do it again. He also paid a $263 fine. In the most bizarre legal resolution to any of these cases I have yet seen, doing this apparently allows Mr. Weisman to do whatever bizarre voodoo he likes with the permission of the Minnesota state government:

It turns out that the government of Minnesota has entirely given up any pretense of protecting the public from charlatans and witchcraft. Mr. Weisman is doing just as he pleases, offering “consultations:” as well as selling vegan pet food with longevity claims based on a grossly misleading and unscientific interpretation of some published owner survey reports.

Apparently, claiming to be able to treat serious life-threatening illnesses, interpret clinical lab tests and MRI images, and discouraging patients from seeing legitimate, science-based medical practitioners is now A-OK in Minnesota! Yet another quack thriving by deceiving the public. 

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3 Responses to Fickle Justice: Some Quacks get Punished, Most Get Away with It

  1. Jazzlet says:

    Karen Arken
    Ouch! The dog of mine that required the most veterinary care never approached those VIP fees.

  2. Pingback: Evidence Update: A Systematic Review of Studies Evaluating Vegan Diets for Dogs and Cats |

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