Scott Pruch and his wife, Robin Tobias, referred dozens of friends and stray dogs to the Caring Hands Animal Clinic in Aventura and the care of Dr. Prentiss Madden, hospital director. That is, until Madden was arrested in March on charges of alleged animal cruelty and possession of child pornography.
“I thought he was great,” Pruch says New Times. “At first we thought no dogs were ever injured there. Then we find out it’s a lot worse than we thought.”
According to Miami Herald, the file-sharing company Dropbox tipped off the authorities that a person with an IP address matching Madden had received more than 1,500 files on suspicion of child pornography. That led to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that led agents to search Madden’s home in Miami-Dade County in February when they uncovered several devices with photos and text conversations that contained evidence of child pornography, and to the owners’ horror of Madden’s four-legged patients-sexual exploitation of animals.
When the news broke out Madden’s arrest in March, Pruch began making calls from pet owners he had referred to Madden. But there were scarce details of what Madden should have done exactly until last week, when the criminal complaint against Madden was closed in federal court.
On Thursday, Madden pleaded guilty to charges of receiving child pornography, possession of child pornography and creating “animal crush” videos, a term that refers to videos depicting harm to animals for sexual gratification. Madden is the first to be charged in South Florida during federal Prevention of Animal Abuse and Torture Act, which Donald Trump signed into law in 2019.
In addition to portraying Madden’s preference for minors and a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old boy in Orlando, the criminal complaint describes in detailed online exchanges between Madden and unidentified third parties, where Madden admitted and shared photos and videos of herself committing sexual acts on dogs. One of the videos was filmed on Caring Hands.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not released any photos they have taken from Madden’s devices, leaving little opportunity for former clients seeking to determine if their pets had been abused.
Prosecutors in Madden’s case could not confirm that New Times if the owners of the dogs identified in the photos were contacted and told about what happened.
“It simply came to our notice then. Nobody knows what happened in there, ”says pet owner Gina Silvestri, referring to the clinic’s COVID-19 protocols, which forbade pet owners from following their animals into the facility. She worries about her own service animal, Sasha, who was left alone with Madden without her supervision. “That’s horrible.”
Silvestri has taken Sasha the hero dog to Dr. Madden, since she adopted him in 2019. Sasha is known for her various humanitarian efforts, including rescuing a missing 10-year-old boy in Hallandale Beach and his work as an emotional support animal for families on the spot in the Surfside apartment collapse.
When Madden was a good doctor for Sasha, Silvestri says, when people came to her to get a recommendation from a veterinarian in South Florida, she referred them to him. Now she is plagued by remorse.
“Do you know how many clients I sent him? Tons,” Silvestri apologizes. “I regret, especially with the people I sent there. How are you doing well again? I do not know.”
Regina Vlasek, president of Saving Sage Animal Rescue in Fort Lauderdale, often worked with Caring Hands. She says she cross-referenced all records of animals she brought to Madden with the dates mentioned in the criminal complaint, similar to Madden admitting to having abused dogs. Although she was relieved to find some connection, she feels a little comforted.
“It generally leaves you with a very uneasy feeling towards people – as if you ever really know anyone? If they are capable of such terrible things and they are hiding in plain sight,” says Vlasek.
The complaint described a May 2019 text exchange in which Madden told another person that a brown-and-white dog he performed sexual acts on was one he kept because it “needed a home.” Scott Pruch and Robin Tobias realized the timing coincided with a brown-and-white Shih Tzu — named Pamela Anderson — they sponsored at Caring Hands after her previous owner died.
“What made me angry is that there’s a good chance it might have been Pamela – she fit the description,” Pruch says, taking long pauses to compose himself.
When later contacted by New Times, the U.S. Attorney’s Office confirmed that the white-and-brown dog pictured with Madden was not a Shih Tzu and therefore could not have been Pamela. Pruch was relieved then New Times forwarded the message, but he is still devastated that an innocent animal was abused by a person entrusted with its care.
Because Madden’s patients cannot speak for themselves, it is difficult for Madden’s former clients to know if their own pet was abused, and ultimately to build a lawsuit against him for compensation.
“I have a couple of clients who called this, but I do not know if I can file a lawsuit,” said Lauren Turner, a Broward County-based animal rights lawyer. New Times. “A dog can’t tell me if it was one of his victims. It’s a proof problem.”
Turner says pet owners may be able to sue Madden for medical malpractice, though it may depend on obtaining photographic evidence that their animals were abused. Turner has not filed a lawsuit against Madden or Caring Hands Animal Hospital.
At the time of Madden’s arrest, Caring released Hands a declaration said it fired Madden when they learned he was under investigation for “horrific and unthinkable crimes” and that the facility would cooperate with law enforcement.
Reached New Times via email, a Caring Hands employee says the animal hospital turned veterinarian plans and computer system access to federal investigators, but could not share security surveillance from the time Madden allegedly sent the videos because their cameras only store footage for 60 days.
In an e-mail statement to New Times, Caring Hands President Michelle Vitulli thanked the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the federal authorities for bringing Madden to justice. She calls Madden’s guilt placement “an important step forward for our family at the Animal Hospital and society as a whole in the process of healing and closure.”
Madden was known by colleagues, animal owners and animal activists as someone who cared deeply for animals and worked long hours keeping the animal hospital running. At least one service animal was named after him.
Previous clients considered Madden a hero doctor. Now they want to see him put away.
“I hope he gets the maximum penalty for someone who betrayed all his clients,” Vlasek says. “He is a sociopath who represented himself as one who loved and cared for animals.”
Madden will be convicted in October. He faces more than 20 years in federal prison.
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