Hollywood’s favorite pet guru pleads no contest to unlicensed veterinary work

Cropped portrait of unrecognizable male veterinarian examining white Labrador dog at vet clinic.
Photo credit Getty Images

Controversial animal rights activist and pet health guru Marc Ching pleaded no contest to practicing veterinary medicine without a license on Wednesday, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced.

The plea arose from charges L.A. prosecutors filed against Ching in 2020, after The Los Angeles Times reported concerns raised by local veterinarians about his holistic pet care practices, favored by celebrity animal-lovers.

Perhaps due to this star-studded circle of friends and advocates, his work in the health and wellness industries, both human and animal, has drawn scrutiny from regulatory authorities.

Ching, 52, owns the organic pet supply retail chain The PetStaurant, with locations in West L.A., Sherman Oaks and Los Feliz. Prosecutors alleged he encouraged owners to opt for herbal supplements and unproven diet regimens to treat sick pets in lieu of traditional veterinary medicine; advice Feuer’s office said put the lives of animals at risk.

“Just as you wouldn’t want an unlicensed doctor providing medical treatment to you or a loved one, the unlicensed practice of veterinary medicine is just as serious an issue for our beloved animals,” Feuer said.

Ching’s animal rescue nonprofit, the Sherman Oaks-based Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation, has enjoyed celebrity backing, including that of actresses Alicia Silverstone and Shannen Doherty, musician Moby and former “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” cast member Lisa Vanderpump.

Vanderpump teamed up with Ching in 2016 to testify before Congress on the issue of the dog meat trade in Asia. That same year, Vanderpump tweeted that Ching ought to be nominated for a CNN Heroes award for his work combating animal abuse abroad.

Representatives for Vanderpump and Vanderpump Dogs did not respond to KNX's requests for comment.

In April of last year, the Federal Trade Commission accused Ching of falsely claiming that an herbal supplement called “Thrive” could treat COVID-19 and that other products he marketed could combat cancer.

Ching denied any wrongdoing but reached a settlement with the FTC last July. The terms of that agreement barred him from making further claims about Thrive’s effectiveness against COVID-19.

The L.A. Times has also reported allegations of mismanagement of funds at Ching’s nonprofit. Former foundation director Valarie Ianniello filed a complaint against the organization in 2019 with the California attorney general’s office. She alleged over $300,000 in improper cash withdrawals and purchases made by Ching.

The foundation’s accountant, Meredith Freeman, told The Times that Ching used charity funds on international travel. A spokesperson for the foundation said it had conducted an independent investigation and concluded that “no AHWF money was stolen, embezzled, or otherwise improperly used for non-AHWF benefits or purposes.”

By far the most egregious accusation of impropriety levied against Ching concerns a series of videos he produced while on a 2016 trip to Asia. The footage was recorded by Ching and associates to document the abuse and slaughter of dogs at meat markets in countries like Indonesia and Cambodia.

Eventually it was compiled into a public service announcement featuring celebrities like Matt Damon, Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara.

A Times investigation uncovered evidence that raised questions about the authenticity of the footage, however.

Butchers in Indonesia purported that Ching paid them to hang one dog and burn it alive; methods of dispatch far more inhumane than they ordinarily use. It was all so Ching could capture the gore on camera, they said.

Ching denied the paper’s findings in a blog post published to his foundation’s website, which boasts an entire section devoted to “Slander/Facts."

The recent charges against Ching for unlicensed practice of veterinary medicine actually arose from another charge he faced in November of 2020 for manufacturing and packaging pet food without a license, as well as selling mislabeled food.

In an agreement reached with authorities, Ching said he would make efforts to obtain proper licensing and abstain from making misleading statements in marketing his products, such as claiming non-organic food was organic.