Did Dr. Shirley Sara Koshi commit suicide over a cat named Karl?

March 06, 2014  

Tragic end to the life of a New York veterinarian from India.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: A New York-based veterinarian, Dr. Shirley Sara Koshi, was found dead in her home on February 16, the victim of an apparent suicide that may have been caused by online bullying and harassment she suffered at the hands of a local cat lover.

Dr. Shirley Sara Koshi (courtesy of Legacy.com)

Dr. Shirley Sara Koshi (courtesy of Legacy.com)

The story begins in August of 2013, when a cat named Karl was turned over to the Gentle Hands Veterinary Clinic in the Bronx, New York, which was operated by Koshi. The cat was apparently one of many that was being cared for by Gwen Jurmark, a woman who gives food to and nurtures the wild cats in Raoul Wallenberg Park.

Koshi nursed Karl back to health, feeding him and domesticating him until he was fully healthy. This took place over the course of several weeks, and when Karl was finally rehabilitated, Jurmark came forward as the purported owner of the cat, saying that because she was the one feeding him at the park, she was his owner. Jurmark took Koshi to Bronx Civil Court with the lawsuit.

The movement to give Karl over to Jurmark also got the attention of the Veterinary Abuse Network’s blog, which was started and managed by founder Julie Catalano. The blog is what has been credited by Koshi’s supporters as the main impetus for her death, as it heavily criticized the veterinarian, posting embarrassing professional and personal stories in an attempt to discredit her and ruin her reputation.

“Dr. Shirley Sara/Shirley Sara Koshi/Koshy told the court at a preliminary hearing in December that she SOLD KARL to his new owner,” began one such post, dated December 31 of last year. “This is a woman who has had veterinary licenses in five states and by her own admission has worked in about 30 different animal hospitals over her “career.” She just opened her hole-in-the-wall storefront on Johnson Avenue in July of 2013 and a mere one month later she had already taken Karl. Just the type of stable individual that we should all look to as a paradigm of veterinary virtue (NOT!) to make life and death decisions about animals.”

For her part, Koshi also took to social media to debunk Jurmark and her supporters, criticizing the people who care for feral cats in public places by saying “Gwen Jurmark adopts cats from the Animal Care and Control, under the umbrella of New Hope Partners then disposes them in Parks like Walenburg Park in Riverdale. These cats lived under trees until Julia Kalina built cages. However no cage in winter is warm enough for a cat or a warm[-]blooded mammal. In my mind this Rescue group headed by Jurmark is a blight [sic] on all Rescue groups that find loving homes for their adoptees. Karl, not his name anymore has a home and is safe, unlike the cats that live under the mercy of the elements outdoors, unvaccinated, not microchipped [sic], open to Rabies.”

The legal proceedings had not yet been completed when Koshi was found dead, at the age of 55.

A few days after Koshi’s passing, Catalano took to the Veterinary Abuse Network’s Facebook page, writing that she was happy Karl the cat could now be returned to Jurmark and that this “long and strange saga [had] ended well” for him.

Originally from Pune, India, Koshi was the daughter of Puthuparumbil Koshy and the late Thankamma Varkey Koshy. She earned a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Bombay Veterinary College in 1980, and worked for over 33 years in India, New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

Now, an online petition has been formed to hold Catalano responsible for their alleged abuse and harassment of Koshi.

The petition, launched by Change.org, alleges that criminal charges should be brought against “those” responsible; although it never specifies who exactly, numerous links to the writings of Catalano are included on their website. In their petition, Change.org states “For several months, these ‘animal rescuers’ stalked, harassed, verbally abused, cyberbullied, and damaged the reputation of Dr. Shirley Koshi. They dragged her name through the mud on every website and article posted about her veterinary clinic. They drove her to take her life.”

The petition has over 2,500 supporters so far, and is hoping to attain 47,098. Police have not yet 100% ruled that Koshi died of a suicide, saying that it was an overdose of some kind that was most likely the result of a suicide. In the meantime, however, the case can shed light on the growing problem of cyber-bullying, and how it does not just affect those in middle and high school, but also professionals who may use the Internet to attack others they don’t necessarily agree with.

To contact the author, email to deepakchitnis@americanbazaaronline.com

  • Nancy McNevin

    Your title should have read “Was Dr. Koshi driven to take her own life as a result of cyber bullying?”. Asking if she killed herself over a cat (presumably because it sounds cooler) trivializes her death and the events that drove her to that end.

  • Jim Johnson

    I agree with Nancy. It was not the cat that was the issue, it was the harassment.

  • Lauren Bowling

    I agree with Nancy and Jim. She did not commit suicide over Karl, but over the bullying that occurred because she tried to find him an indoor home.

    Karl was also NOT feral, was completely socialized when Gwen “adopted” him from the shelter and then proceeded to dump him in a public park. I don’t consider that rescue, I consider that abandonment.

    Most true rescuers would be THRILLED to have a veterinarian take a cat that is living outdoors and find it a home.

    • Nancy McNevin

      Agreed, Lauren. Gwen’s ownership of Karl was tenuous at best and her actions to get him back so she could return him to the feral colony boggles the mind. The role Vet Abuse Network played in this debacle, however, was down right criminal. Stop by banvetabuse.blogspot.com sometime.

  • Bethany Greene

    Here’s the petition for anyone that would like to sign and hold Julie Catalano and her supporters accountable for their behavior: http://www.change.org/petitions/new-york-state-division-of-criminal-justice-services-hold-those-accountable-for-the-suicide-of-dr-shirley-koshi

  • Alice Johns

    The cyber-bullying should be mentioned in the title. The cat did not kill Dr. Shirley. Do not minimize the harm caused by bullies on the internet. We have seen other adults and far to many children killed by them as well. Bullies need to be held to account.

    It is extremely sad that this doctor tried to do the right thing for this cat, finding it a place to live, getting it off the street, while it’s “rescuer” bullied her to her death.

  • Nancy McNevin

    @ Alice Johns Yes, the title should have included something about the harassment and cyber-bullying. It seemed to me the title was penned for shock value. The author should be actively pursuing the investigation (are police now 100% certain it was a suicide? Maybe it was an accident?), following up on the reports of cyber-stalking, and looking at what else Vet Abuse Network and Regret A Vet have done or are currently doing to malign other Vets. To leave the story off as a general “shucks, cyber-bulling sucks!” is a superficial response to a really tragic event. Of course it sucks! Now do something about it.

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