As anger continues to mount over the suicide several weeks ago of local veterinarian Dr. Shirley Koshi, many questions remain. Dr. Koshi was found dead in her Manhattan apartment on Feb. 16. She reportedly left behind a note, apologizing to employees for her act. Koshi had been distraught over an overwhelming and personal internet attack originating with several national animal rights organizations, along with the continued decline of her business following a dispute over the ownership of a stray cat. As the full story unfolds, many former patients, colleagues and even internet users who may not have known about the case initially are appalled. They have also taken to the web demanding a criminal probe into the case.
The story begins in early August; just one month after Dr. Koshi opened her practice on Johnson Ave in Riverdale. Two local residents, Julia Kalina and Marion Koenig, brought in a male cat who was suffering from a severe and apparently recurring upper respiratory infection. The two women had collected the cat in Wallenberg Park, where Yonkers resident and self-described cat rescuer Gwen Jurmark allegedly maintained a cat colony.
NYC law is unusual in that it allows for the creation of such colonies for feral cats by New York residents who register and are trained by the city. The law allows these colonies as a means of supporting animals that may already be acclimatized to life in the wild: it was not intended to support domestic cats as strays. There are strict standards of care for those who maintain these colonies, requiring vaccinations, spaying and the building of suitable shelters. Along with the training and compliance for the colonies there is a requirement that colonies be registered with local authorities. We contacted the 50th Precinct, along with the New York City Feral Cat Initiative both of whom were unaware of the Wallenberg colony.
Dr. Koshi treated the cat, named Karl by the women, but advised them that it was clear to her that the cat was not feral and did not belong in a park. In addition she said she was disturbed by the pattern of what she saw. Ms. Jurmark, she said made a practice of adopting cats from Animal Care and Control under her own name, as well as under the name of New Hope Partners. Ms. Jurmark she continued, "then drops them off in cat colonies that she says are hers, in parks, narrow alleys, etc, [These cats are left] free to roam as strays without proof of annual examinations and vaccinations and most of all a warm home, with owners that know how they are doing every day."
Ultimately, when the time came to pick up Karl, Dr. Koshi refused to turn him over to Jurmark. Karl's condition, said Koshi, would not allow him to survive another bout of respiratory illness, nor was he a genuinely feral cat suitable for the park. As a veterinarian, she believed that it was unethical, essentially an act of cruelty, to return the cat to a situation that could potentially led to its needless suffering and/or death. In addition, Dr. Koshi argued that Jurmark, who did not herself bring the cat in, register it or pay the bill, could not prove ownership, and therefore should not be given the cat only to release it to the park.
And that is when the situation really got out of control. Not to be deterred, Jurmark began by arguing directly with Koshi. Officers of the 50th Precinct responded to the Johnson Ave office to mediate. Jurmark filed suit in Civil Court but couldn't prove ownership of the cat. Jurmark then organized a protest outside the office, saying Koshi had seized "her" cat. The story began to attract media attention, eventually garnering a mention in the Riverdale Press. The protests were damaging enough to a new business, but what happened next crossed the line.
Jurmark enlisted the help of several online organizations that protest against what they see as abusive veterinarians. The websites, Veterinary Abuse Network, and Regret A Vet, along with Suki's Safe Haven and several others, use the power of the internet and Facebook as a forum to highlight details of cases of alleged malpractice. It is worth noting that no one involved in this story ever complained about Dr. Koshi's medical treatment of Karl. Nor did either website have any local knowledge of Dr. Koshi, Ms. Jurmark or the circumstances. Veterinary Abuse Network run by Julie Catalano, is based in Texas. Regret A Vet is apparently based somewhere in Illinois.
Together they targeted Dr. Koshi, describing her as a "crazy bitch" "freakzoid," a "smug, self-satisfied, smirking, preening, control freak" saying she should be "locked up in a mental institution," mocking her and claiming that she had "stolen" Karl. Anyone that spoke in Koshi's defense was labeled "narcissistic and self-serving." Others responded to the web posts, adding comments laced with obscenity, saying that she was insane, arrogant, a religious "nut." Lawsuits were threatened against anyone daring to reprint the comments with attribution.
The attacks were unrelentingly, personal and continuous, arriving daily on Dr. Koshi's Facebook page, on the blogs and the Gentle Hands website.
As her business declined, as the attacks mounted, Dr. Koshi took her life.
On the day of Koshi's death several posters gloried in the opportunity to see the cat returned "home." Several commented on the spate of posts that may have contributed to Dr. Koshi's death, "LOL," wrote one, "Dr. Koshi contributed to Dr. Koshi's death...suicide is a consequence of her own actions." There is no way to describe what happened except as cyber bullying.
Appalled by what they had seen, several area residents are calling for accountability. Led by Lauren Henderson, a veterinary student and Cindy Morales, a cat-owner who says that Dr. Koshi saved her cat's life, an online petition calling for a criminal probe was posted on change.org. To date it has over 3,300 signatures.
And what of Karl, the cat who started the issue? According to an internet post by Jurmark, she retrieved him from Animal Control on Koshi's death. Apparently Dr. Koshi had been caring for him herself. We reached out to Animal Control but as of this writing have been unable to confirm whether an adoption occurred. Yesterday a cat resembling Karl was spotted in an unauthorized makeshift cat shanty town in Wallenberg Park. Apparently not feral, he not only approached us but lingered for some time, desperate for food and attention.
Before she died, Dr. Koshi was profiled by the HamletHub. You can hear her speaking for herself in this video which includes a portion of that recorded interview. Tomorrow in part II of this story we will detail the cyberbullying aspect of this story.
View the cyberbullying video here.