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Undercover Kitty Helps Collar Phony Veterinarian

In the end, Steven Vassall was nothing more than a ball of string in Fred’s sights. Kings County prosecutors are hailing the efforts of an adorable “undercover kitty” that helped them get their paws on a bogus veterinarian charged with endangering the lives of the animals under his care. During a press conference Wednesday morning, Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes said it was Fred the cat’s courage, dedication to the task at hand, and outright cuddliness that helped them nab Vassall, 28, who claimed to be a veterinarian, although he had no official training nor offices. Vassall, officials said, was charged with posing as a licensed Doctor of Veterinary Medicine for conducting risky surgeries on people’s pets. The Flatbush resident is accused of operating a clinic where he would pick up sick animals and then perform life-threatening procedures. None of the victims’ owners ever saw his offices. What they did see was a list of reduced prices for the care he gave the animals, which ranged from performing a thyriodectomy to neutering to euthanasia. Police are still investigating where exactly Vassall performed these procedures and were trying to locate pet owners that Vassal may have fleeced in the more than seven years that he had claimed to be practicing. Investigators allege that they were alerted to Vassal’s shady practices after he nearly killed a five-year-old Boston Terrier named Burt. Burt’s owner, Raymond Reid, contacted Vassall for a simple diagnosis. Instead, Vassal recommended surgery to remove a foreign object that the non-MD thought was lodged in the dog’s intestines, prosecutors said. Following difficulties in the operation, which was never needed to begin with, Vassall recommended to Reid that Burt should be put to sleep. But Reid wanted his four-legged friend returned to him. When Burt was brought back home – with a $985 bill to boot — the dog’s stomach was riddled with infected sutures. Reid had to take Burt to a legitimate veterinarian to “fix the problems caused by Vassall’s botched surgery,” Hynes said. With Vassall on their radar, prosecutors recruited Fred, an eight-month-old Tabby cat adopted by a prosecutor from New York City Animal Care and Control. Prosecutors said that Fred played his part well as a young cat whose owner wanted to get neutered. The Kings County D.A. wired an apartment and had an agent call Vassall to stop by and pick Fred up. Vassall, officials allege, immediately brokered the deal, stating that he would neuter Fred for $135. The undercover agent paid Vassall and handed Fred over in a cat carrier. A whisker’s breath away from danger with one of his lives on the line, Fred did not falter, said prosecutors, who said that investigators caught up with Vassall and placed him under arrest just moments after he left the apartment. Vassall was charged with overdriving, torturing and injuring an animal as well as unauthorized use of a professional title. He faces up to four years in prison if convicted. “Animal cruelty is among the most heinous crimes, because people’s pets are the most innocent victims,” said Hynes. “We will make sure that this so-called doctor faces the maximum penalty for what he did to these animals. For performing above and beyond the duty of an ordinary house cat, Fred was officially deputized by Detective Investigators of the Kings County District Attorney’s office and given a small badge as token of their appreciation. As of Thursday, Fred the undercover kitty was awaiting his next assignment.

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