Senate missteps no longer dog veterinarian John Ensign

Doesn't that guy sticking a needle in that cat's butt look familiar?

Actually, it's former Sen. John Ensign, who has gone back to work as a veterinarian ... for the third time.

Ensign was a 35-year-old veterinarian in 1994 when he unseated Rep. Jim Bilbray, D-Nev. Then after two terms in the House, the Republican ran for the U.S. Senate, losing to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid by a paltry 428 votes in 1998.

So he went back to being a veterinarian for a second time.

However, opportunity knocked quickly. In February 1999, U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan unexpectedly said he wouldn't run again. Ensign was the first in the race and won in 2000.

Things went well for him until June 19, 2009, when he admitted to an affair.

On May 3, 2011, he resigned just days before he would be testifying under oath before the Senate Ethics Committee about his affair with Cindy Hampton, his wife's friend, and the alleged payoff to her husband, Doug Hampton.

Ensign's political career, and any hopes of higher office, have ended.

In October, his veterinarian's license was reinstated and he started working as a volunteer doctor at Heaven Can Wait, a nonprofit with a mission of spaying and neutering cats and dogs for people who couldn't otherwise afford it. After two months, they started paying him.

Now he works there one day a week and also works at the West Flamingo Animal Hospital, the first 24-hour animal hospital he and Dr. Christopher Yach started in 1988. He also works at Gentle Doctor Animal Hospital.

After getting his skills up to date treating pets, he started seeing people last week.

About 80 percent of his patients' owners recognize him.

"There's a little bit of a celebrity-type of effect" from those who recognize him, Ensign said. Many tell him something along of the lines of "I wish you wouldn't have quit the other, but I'm glad to have you as my vet."

Ensign hopes to open his own clinic again eventually. He sold his share of West Flamingo to Yach when he entered politics.

Life in general is good .

"I'm healthy. My marriage is great. I have a son in college, two teenagers who are no problem," he said. "It's a new chapter in my life."

Ensign is comfortable and happy with his life again, after that tumultuous two-year period between June 2009 and May 2011, when he fought to stay in office.

His resignation meant the Senate no longer had any control over him, but the Senate Ethics Committee released a scathing report that found evidence Ensign may have committed conspiracy, made false statements and destroyed potential evidence in trying to cover up the affair. The committee recommended that the Justice Department reconsider filing charges against Ensign. That hasn't happened.

Ensign said he hasn't heard from the Justice Department in more than a year. That could indicate any investigation has stopped.

Doug Hampton was charged with seven counts of violating a federal lobbying law, but no date has been set for his trial.

The last time I saw Ensign in person, in February, he and his wife, Darlene, were heading into a VIP reception with Herman Cain at the Clark County Lincoln Day dinner. Ensign was still a candidate for re-election. When he was introduced, applause for him was noticeably lackluster. The next month, Ensign said he wouldn't run after all.

Just from talking to him, it is obvious he is comfortable with his life and less stressed.

Politically, he's not active. He won't attend this year's Lincoln Day Dinner in Las Vegas.

Until Hampton's trial resurrects the scandal, Dr. Ensign is likely to live a quiet life, although less glamorous than when he was Sen. Ensign.

Surely there's something to be said for a peaceful existence out of the limelight.

Jane Ann Morrison's column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at or call her at (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at


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