Texas' case against Hines may be complicated by the vet's insistence that he doesn't actually "treat" any animals, and instead merely acts as a sounding board and second opinion. "I don't claim to be able to cure an animal over the internet, or that I have any kind of clairvoyant powers," he says. "But I've done this so long that I kind of know statistically what occurs and I try to find them the nearest source of decent veterinary care and get them there."
New Yorker Cynthia Herrli already had a vet for her 17-year-old Russian Blue cat Sam when she reached out to Hines, who she says responded to her inquiries at all hours.
"When someone you love or your pet is really ill, you don't always think of the right questions to ask while you're at the vet's office," she says. "And for me especially, those questions came at night or when my cat was hurting or when I walked home from the vet. And he was always there, an email away."
It was Hines, she says, who urged her to take Sam straight to the hospital when the cat was experiencing alarming symptoms, and it was Hines who was there for her when Sam finally passed away. "He had so much more patience than my local vet. To hear that his approach is in jeopardy makes me angry."
Jean Cervi reached out to Hines after the death of her golden retriever Dakota. The dog had died an early death, in her opinion, and she suspected that the vets she had taken Dakota to had misdiagnosed its ailments. Hines requested years worth of blood tests and then came back to her with a detailed report that confirmed many of her suspicions.
"The man is excellent at looking at tests you've had done or suggesting that you check this or check that," Cervi says. "He doesn't try to treat the animal over the phone. That wasn't my experience at all. But what he does is take the information you give him and paint a picture using his experience with animals, and then he tells you what you might go to the vet and have checked out."
To this day, Hines has no idea who initially submitted a complaint against him, but in March the Texas veterinary board officially reprimanded him, fined him $500, required him to retake the law portion of the veterinary-licensing exam, and suspended his license for a year. Asked what he'll do if his lawyers prevail and a court rules that his rights have been violated, Hines says he'll simply place the contact button back on his web site and resume corresponding with animal owners. "I don't know, I won't be doing this much longer," he elaborates. "I'm old, and it's not a financial thing. But perhaps a younger vet would enjoy doing what I do, and I don't think that should be illegal."
In the meantime, he has plenty to keep him busy; he raises bees, works in his garden, and he likes to fix clocks. Regardless of what happens to him, he says, the world has evolved, and eventually the powers that be will need to recognize that the internet has changed the equation.
"They are just going to have to adjust to the century we live in. The internet has just made a lot of things possible and desirable that probably weren't desirable or possible during the horse and buggy days," Hines says. "And we're just going to have to learn to confront those things."