SHEFFIELD TOWNSHIP -- State and local authorities are cracking down on an animal clinic following a Channel 3 News hidden camera investigation into an unlicensed employee operating on animals.
The Veterinary Medical Licensing Board this month voted to deny a business facility license to the Animal House vet clinic. The decision cited the story by Investigator Tom Meyer as well as multiple complaints that the clinic was unsanitary, had submitted a fraudulent application and had refused to cooperate with the board's investigation.
Theresa Stir, the board's executive director, said the Animal House must immediately stop treating animals brought in by the public. The clinic, however, may continue to treat animals that it rescues and then puts up for adoption, she said.
Based on the board's investigation, the Lorain municipal prosecutor has filed misdemeanor charges against owner Michael Luli for operating without the proper license.
Luli's wife, Crystal, said they have done "everything legal" that was required to obtain a veterinary business facility license. The license is required when a facility is owned by someone other than a veterinarian.
"We certainly didn't lie," Crystal Luli said regarding the allegation that the clinic submitted a fraudulent application.
As for accusations of unsanitary conditions, she said the vet board had "never one time" inspected the Animal House - either at its old location in Lorain or its new location on North Ridge Road in Sheffield Township.
Channel 3 News first exposed the Animal House in June when it reported that an 18-year-old employee who held no license related to veterinary medicine was caught on video operating on a dog. The employee was castrating the dog under the supervision of veterinarian James Dittoe.
The vet board issued an advisory letter to Dittoe following the broadcast. Stir said the board "condemned" Dittoe's actions but said it appeared that Ditto did not violate state law because the employee owned the dog that he operated on.
The employee had tried to sell the same dog to an undercover producer at Channel 3 News following the surgery.
At the time, Michael Luli said it was "definitely an isolated case" and that it was not approved by him or his wife.
Veterinarian Jessi Pizzuli, who work at the Animal House on a temporary basis, said that the employee was "following the guidelines set by the Luli's -- anything goes."
Pizzuli was among those who complained to the vet board. She said the Animal House was unsanitary and overcrowded with animals to the point they were housed in the surgical rooms. Pizzuli also said the Animal House routinely offered animals for adoption that were not well.
"They had animals that needed additional medical attention that they adopted out anyway," Pizzuli told Channel 3 News. "There was one dog that had major heart disease that I felt was going to go into heart failure soon and they adopted him out. That dog also had major mouth disease ... and potential breast cancer."
Pizzuli said she stopped working at the Animal House when its water was shut off and the owners never told the staff.
"You should shut down the hospital," Pizzuli said. "The people running it don't know how to run a veterinary hospital. It should be left to professionals who have the best interest of the animal at heart and who know what they're doing."