Shirley Koshi, DVM, took her own life on February 16, 2014, only 7 months after opening her solo practice in New York City.1 Koshi, a native of India who had practiced in the U.S. for much of her 33-year career, endured vicious online attacks and severe financial pressure in the last months of her life as she defended herself in a cat custody battle.1,2
Stunned and saddened to learn of the events leading to her suicide, the veterinary community is confronting a harsh reality: Cyberbullying. No longer harming only children and teenagers, cyberbullying can also have devastating consequences for veterinary professionals, who may need to develop new skills and resources to prevent this harassment from harming their practices and disrupting their personal lives.
Koshi’s troubles began last summer when 2 rescuers presented a sick tuxedo cat found in a nearby park.3 “This cat had been living in the park for I don’t know how many years and had had several bouts of upper respiratory disease, so living outdoors was not the best thing for this cat,” Koshi said in a video posted online after her death (which was later deleted).4 The cat improved and “had stayed here for 2 weeks. Then this woman showed up saying, ‘It’s my cat.’ If it were her cat, it shouldn’t be living in a park, especially a public park. So she went to court but she didn’t have any proof that she was the owner, and she had no proof that she was allowed to keep this cat colony in a public park.”
“I fight for pets as much as I can”
The woman Koshi described was Gwen Jurmark, who said she was the rightful owner of the cat, named Karl, because she had adopted him from a shelter years earlier and paid for his neutering and vaccinations before releasing him in the park. Koshi refused to allow Karl to resume living in the park, adopted him, and took him home.
After Jurmark sued for custody in New York Civil Court, she led a protest demanding Karl’s release outside Koshi’s Gentle Hands Veterinarian practice. Others took to the Internet, vilifying Koshi on blogs and Facebook pages, one with a December 31 post that began with the question, “Is This the Worst Vet of 2013?”6 Attacks also appeared on Koshi’s Facebook page and her practice’s website.
Will Page, a veterinary technician who worked with Koshi, told the New York Daily News that business declined at Gentle Hands after the lawsuit and protests.1 A flood soon damaged the office, and Koshi’s savings were exhausted. Page said Koshi appeared deeply depressed when she left her practice on February 10. Six days later, police found her dead at home, apparently of a drug overdose. She left a note saying she was sorry and thanking her employees for their service.1