Animal rehabber faces drug, abuse charges
A 10-month investigation has resulted in the director of the Orphaned Wildlife Rescue Center in Lusby facing multiple drug violation and animal abuse charges.
Ronald Gene Wexler, 68, of Lusby was arrested on 10 counts of possession of controlled dangerous substance — not marijuana and triple counts each of animal cruelty and practicing veterinary medicine without a necessary license, according to court records.
The investigation into the Orphaned Wildlife Rescue Center commenced after a complaint was filed to the Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service alleging violations of wildlife rehabilitation regulations, violations involving rabies vector species, performing veterinary medicine without a license, animal cruelty and possible controlled dangerous substance violations. The complaint letter was reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office and the attorney general recommended it be investigated, according to charging documents.
A search warrant was conducted on the wildlife center Aug. 6 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maryland Natural Resources Police and two veterinarians, according to the documents.
While executing the search warrant, authorities reportedly found large amounts of demerol, pentobarbital, buprenex, fentanyl, oxycodone, ketamine, midazolam, alprazolam, phenobarital and butorphanol, none of which Wexler had a prescription for, the documents allege.
“We confiscated a large amount of evidence from the scene,” Candy Thomson, public information officer for the Maryland Natural Resources Police, said in a phone interview Wednesday. “It took us a while to test all the substances we found in the house and to compare the records he had in the house to what is permitted by state and federal law. He does not have any licenses or prescriptions to possess any of the controlled substances found in his home.”
Additional observations were made by authorities inside the center, regarding the rehabilitation of wildlife, according to the documents.
A lactating female Virginia opossum with non-treatable spinal trauma — which results in pain and paralysis — was reportedly being kept alive in order to feed its litter. The charging documents state the opossum should have been euthanized upon arrival since it had no chance of being rehabilitated and released. A cottontail rabbit, with the same non-treatable spinal trauma, was also allegedly found inside the center, caged. An osprey was reportedly observed to be in a cage that was too small, resulting in muscle atrophy and feather damage.
When Wexler returned to the center, he was interviewed by authorities, at which time he allegedly admitted he is not a veterinarian, although the wildlife center’s website identifies him as one. The charging documents state Wexler, who goes by the nickname “Doc,” said he has been involved in wildlife rehabilitation for the last 25 years, but reportedly couldn’t answer “basic” questions about the conditions of his permit and what he can and cannot do regarding wildlife rehabilitation. Wexler allegedly told authorities he has never bothered to read the terms and conditions of his permits.
During the interview, Wexler allegedly admitted to performing surgery on two different ospreys whose feet were tangled in a fishing line around Aug. 3. He said he got the fishing line off the birds’ feet, adding that he does this type of veterinary medicine routinely on injured wildlife at the Orphaned Wildlife Rescue Center. Wexler also allegedly described a surgery he performed on a black rat snake Aug. 5 to remove an ingested golf ball, attempting to justify the surgery by saying, in his opinion, the snake was dying. The on-scene veterinarians confirmed a black rat snake could last a couple of weeks with an ingested foreign object before it becomes distressed.
“He is not a veterinarian, even though his website says he is,” Thomson said. “He’s not permitted to do what he did under state law.”
Authorities recovered documents during the search warrant that allegedly showed Wexler opposed House Bill 277, which was introduced into state legislature in 1997. The passing of this bill made it illegal for unlicensed veterinarians to practice on animals, the documents state.
Wexler bailed out of jail early Wednesday morning on a $7,500 bail, records show. He is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 8.
The rescue center is located on 3 acres in the Chesapeake Ranch Estates community. Wexler has cared for injured and orphaned wildlife since 1990, according to previous reports in The Calvert Recorder.
Calls made to the wildlife center were not returned by time of press.
Ron Wexler of Orphaned Wildlife Rescue Center in Lusby holds one of the brown pelicans his organization and St. Mary’s County Animal Control rescued in 2007 in Ridge after at least one died from what appeared to be exposure to extremely cold temperatures.
Ronald Gene Wexler holds a female groundhog that was hit by a car and was recuperating at a wildlife center in 2013.