Veterinarians say they have seen an increase in pet owners claiming their pet is injured so they can get pain medicine, and in some rare cases, have injured their pets to obtain the medicines.
Now Colorado veterinarians tell Denver7 they are recognizing signs of abuse in pet owners who bring in their injured dogs or cats.
"It probably happens more than we think," Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald said of patients faking that their pet is injured. "I know of two cases where we really knew it was happening."
Dr. Fitzgerald said he can pick up on the red flags of pet owners who may be seeking drugs for themselves rather than relief for their animals.
"They come in and you've never seen them before. They know the names of the drugs that they want," Fitzgerald said. "Often times they want to know the amount, a large amount. More than you would use."
Dr. Kathy Brown said she has also seen people bring their pets in, claiming the animal is in pain with no evidence of any real problem. Brown owns Brentood Animal Hospital on Federal Blvd. in Denver.
"If you're addicted, you don't care what you have to do to get it," Brown said.
Dr. Brown said she is now reluctant to prescribe pain patches to pets after hearing about addicts stealing them to get a fix.
"I know of more than one case where they jump over the fence and rip it off the animal and take it for themselves," Brown said.
One woman in Kentucky admitted to police in 2012 she intentionally cut her dog multiple times to get the opioid Tramadol.
"I feel like complete and total s-t for doing that," Heather Pereira said during an interview with police, conducted after a suspicious veterinarian's office turned her in.
Pereira was convicted of a felony for attempting to obtain a controlled substance by fraud/false statement, and a misdemeanor charge of misdemeanor torture of a dog or cat, according to the Kentucky Department of Corrections.
She was released on parole after serving a three-month sentence, then spent 10 more months in prison for violating her parole in 2016.
In Oregon, police arrested Natalya and Irina Koroteev in 2016 after finding puppies living in terrible conditions. Inside the home they found thousands of Tramadol pills. Investigators believed the suspects used the animals to get the powerful medication.
In Colorado, veterinarians can access the state prescription database to see if a pet's owner has been busted for abuse of controlled substances.
"The potential is they could go to multiple hospitals to get the drugs that they're looking for," Fitzgerald said.
A pharmacy employee at Fitzgerald's office said she didn't realize a pet owner may have simply been seeking drugs for himself until she moved from another office – and recognized a common customer.
"This guy would call every two weeks on the dot asking for a refill, and it was a red flag," Elizabeth Austin said. "Then I accepted a job here and I saw the same client coming here to the pharmacy to pick up Tramadol. I looked in his chart and I can see for the past year he's been getting Tramadol filled here too."
Both veterinarians Denver7 spoke with said they try to alert other offices when they suspect a pet owner may be seeking pain medication for themselves.
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