Dog dies during veterinarian's surgery house call where teenager was administering anesthesia

The Clark family adopted a 3-year-old Yorkie, only to have him die five days later on their kitchen table during a surgery house call.

"Buster was, he was full of life,” said Dennis Clark. "He would jump in our laps, and sit with us and play. And he was just, he was just a great dog. And by day four, we were like best friends."

Buster was scheduled to be neutered on day five. Clark hired Colorado Mobile Veterinary Services, run by Dr. Sara Rasmussen, to perform the surgery.

"According to Doctor Rasmussen, all I needed to provide was an area for her to set up for surgery, like a kitchen table, dining room table," Clark said.

On the day of the surgery, the kitchen table became an operating table. Buster was muzzled for the procedure and Clark's twin 12-year-old daughters were watching. Clark was taking pictures.

His photos show Rasmussen wore a gray long-sleeve shirt. Introduced to the Clarks as the doctor's assistant, the woman in stripes is Rasmussen's daughter.

7NEWS reporter Amanda Kost asked Rasmussen, "The assistant who was helping with the procedure, was that your daughter?"

"Yes," she responded.

"How old is she?"

"She's 16," Rasmussen answered.

The high school student was assigned to administering the dog's anesthesia.

"The only thing I ever heard Dr. R tell her daughter to do was to quote unquote, 'Push anesthesia based on the heart rate' and my daughters watched her push anesthesia,” said Clark.

After the surgery was completed, Clark says Rasmussen removed the vital sign monitors while Buster was still unconscious.

"I immediately questioned her, 'Is he about to wake up?' And she said quote unquote, 'I think so, but I can't be sure.' And at that point I knew something was going wrong, so I asked my daughters to go upstairs," said Clark.

Buster's heart stopped beating.

"He died on the table before she even knew something was wrong," said Clark.

“I believe he'd still be alive today if a qualified technician under the care and supervision of a competent veterinarian had conducted the surgery," Clark later said.

Rasmussen told Kost her daughter was not responsible for causing the pet's death with the anesthesia.

Kost asked her, "Do you see why someone could kind of raise an eyebrow with a teenager involved in this surgery?"

"Oh, certainly. But, I think, in addition though, I'm right there and she's an extension," Rasmussen said.

All the state requires is supervision, meaning that by the letter of the law Rasmussen did not violate state regulations. In fact, under the Practice Act, a person can assist in surgical procedures, regardless of age, as long as they're supervised by a licensed veterinarian.

The law does specify, however, that the licensed veterinarian is responsible for the performance of anyone to whom they delegate tasks.

"The point that needs to be made, is that this never should've happened. And that this happened because the state of Colorado has no laws in effect governing the training and the requirements of who can administer anesthesia," said Clark.

According to Buster's necropsy report from the Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, no preexistent condition or disease could explain the dog's death immediately after surgery.

"It's never easy, and it never goes away, but even people die under anesthesia, so it's a tragedy and it's not always, there's not always a reason that we can see, but there's always you know some, some reason," said Rasmussen.

Clark says he plans to file a complaint with the State Board of Veterinary Medicine.

"He [Buster] didn't deserve this," Clark said, "he deserved a long and happy life, and she took that away."