A veterinarian who was awarded Non-traditional Species Practitioner of the Year by the Texas Veterinary Medical Association is now under investigation by the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners for her care of the animals at Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary in Tyler, TX.
Dr. Lori Cavitt is the owner of Henderson Animal Care Hospital in Henderson, TX, and she is also the attending veterinarian at the nonprofit Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary.
Cavitt has acted as Tiger Creek’s attending veterinarian since 2017. In a complaint submitted to the Texas Board, witnesses said Cavitt seemed to be using the exotic animals at the sanctuary to experiment on. They said Cavitt often preferred to utilize veterinary care methods that were less costly, rather than considering what would be best for the animal.
Earlier this year, Cavitt was awarded Non-traditional Species Practitioner of the Year by the Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA). The award is designed to “pay tribute to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the field of veterinary medicine,” according to the TVMA website.
Cavitt was nominated for the award by Dr. Alicia Robinson, an associate veterinarian at Henderson Animal Care Hospital. In her nomination letter, Robinson said Cavitt had no formal exotic animal veterinary training before she began working on the animals.
“I will add that she does not hold an exotic specialty and has learned to work with all of these different species on her own through independent learning and hard work,” Robinson said in the letter.
Witnesses said there were several incidents at Tiger Creek where Cavitt opted to euthanize big cats, including one lion and two tigers, by injecting euthanasia fluid directly into their heart. They said this process appeared to cause a prolonged and painful death for the animals, often taking more than five minutes for the animals to die while they writhed and convulsed.
Euthanasia by intracardiac injection should only be used in very small or comatose animals with impaired vascular function, according to drugs.com. The website notes "good injection skill is necessary for intracardiac injection."
Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary was cited with several violations of the Animal Welfare Act in the past year for their care of the animals at the nonprofit. In April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited Tiger Creek with a critical violation for failing to provide accurate and timely veterinary care to 11 animals that died.
“All 11 of the deceased animals showed clinical signs for weeks, sometimes months, without being examined by a veterinarian,” according to the USDA report.
Tiger Creek’s Director Emily Owen made public comments on social media indicating the USDA violations were a result of recordkeeping issues.
“It’s not that vet care wasn’t provided,” Owen said. “It’s that documentation of said vet care was missing. Ironically, those records were in the custody of a disgruntled former employee.”
Texas veterinarians are required to maintain records of the animal care they provide and they’re required to provide a copy of those patient records to their clients upon request.
Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary Owner Brian Werner (Ferris) posted on Facebook that their veterinarian had a copy of the missing records and he said they provided 82 pages of records to the USDA.
Roadside Zoo News obtained those records through an open records request. The records consist primarily of blood test results and text messages between Cavitt and the animal care staff, rather than dated veterinary records with descriptions of the care and treatment provided to the animals.
The text messages appear to indicate that Cavitt often did not know what species of animal she was treating. In one message, she appears to prescribe medication for a dog, rather than a tiger, before an employee corrects her.
The messages indicate a sanctuary employee contacted Cavitt on Feb. 20, 2020, with concerns that a tiger named Tara had been vomiting bile for five days. Cavitt responded that she was leaving town and wouldn’t be back until Feb. 23.
“Is there anything I can do to try to get her through?” the employee questioned.
Cavitt scheduled an appointment to see Tara the day after she returned to town, four days after the issue was presented to her, and nine days after Tara had begun vomiting bile. USDA records indicate Tara died under anesthesia while Cavitt was examining her on Feb. 24, 2020.
Sanctuary records indicate that in Jan. 2020, a lion named Juda was noted to be thin with muscle atrophy in his rear legs and he was wobbly.
Records indicate that Cavitt recommended a medication be given to Juda for a few days and stated if there was no improvement that she should be contacted.
Six months later, on June 22, 2020, an employee texted Cavitt that Juda was completely incontinent and was peeing down the back of his legs.
Incontinence in big cats indicates a serious medical issue and it often causes urine burns and sores on their legs.
On July 1, 2020, text messages indicate Cavitt was notified that Juda’s urine was a dark red or brown color and he was still incontinent and urinating on himself.
USDA records indicate Cavitt euthanized Juda on July 15, 2020. The only record of Juda’s euthanasia appears to be a handwritten note that says “Juda, euthanized July 15, no vet notes.”
Juda was not examined by a veterinarian between Jan. 2020 and July 2020, when he was euthanized, records indicate.
The Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners has confirmed they have started an investigation into Cavitt’s care and recordkeeping related to two lions named Pepe and Juda, and three tigers named Nati, Amara and Tara.
The Texas Board noted their investigation into Dr. Cavitt may take six months to a year to complete.
Tiger Creek veterinary records submitted to the USDA: