The Doctor and the Rabbits

A Broward dentist saved hundreds of rabbits and became a national celebrity. Why do so many people fear him?

Perhaps his sometimes-kind, sometimes-rude, sometimes-bizarre behavior can be explained by something he said back in the restaurant. Pausing to take a bite out of his steamed vegetables, a meal befit for, well, rabbits, he became introspective. "Humans are the real nuisances in this world," he said.

When he was a student at Norland High School in Miami back in the '60s, Rosen was more apt to spend his free time studying magazines at the school library than throwing around footballs.

Todd Hardwick (above, left), who trapped the rabbits, talks with Rosen. At right: Angela Gittens, director of Miami's airport
Bill Cooke
Todd Hardwick (above, left), who trapped the rabbits, talks with Rosen. At right: Angela Gittens, director of Miami's airport

A withdrawn child, he always liked animals. He used to catch mice, study them, then release them back into the wild, he explains. He took up scuba diving largely as a way to study aquatic life. He had two dogs growing up, one named Rusty, the other Rainbow. He loved them both, he says, "but Rainbow is a dumb name."

After high school, for three years, Rosen attended the University of Miami, where, he says, he maintained a 3.85 GPA. To this day, he obsesses over a two-point true/false problem he missed on a political science final. That test, he says, kept him from amassing a perfect 4.0. For his senior year, Rosen transferred to Florida International University. His official reason for making the change was that he wanted to save money, but unofficially, Rosen says he simply did not want to fulfill Miami's foreign language requirement.

After FIU, Rosen attended Emory University's dental school. He received a dentistry license in 1977 and opened a practice in Plantation. Records from the Florida State Board of Dentistry show that Rosen's tenure as a dentist included some controversy. His first problem occurred in 1984 when the board sanctioned him for practicing without an active license. Rather than fight the citation, Rosen paid a $500 penalty fee.

Five years later, a former patient whose name isn't given in the records complained to the state that Rosen had performed root canal therapy on her without first discussing the procedure's implications. When an argument broke out, the dentist ordered the woman to leave his office. State records indicate Rosen's papers failed to "adequately document the examination results, treatment plans, and actual performance." The dentistry board declared that Rosen had not lived up to minimum-standard-of-care statutes and issued him a letter of guidance but did not levy a fine.

In 2002, Rosen was again sanctioned by the board, this time for failing to complete any of the 30 hours of continuing-education classes needed to renew his license. He was ordered to pay a $4,899 fine.

Rosen cut me off before I could ask him about these problems. He did explain, though, that his real passion is for inventions, not dentistry. He has come up with ideas for a posture straightener that buzzes when you start to slouch; an antikidnapping belt that emits a signal so parents can track down lost or kidnapped children; and a flexible screwdriver that reaches into corners.

His most successful invention is the hair-straightening solution made by Tend Skin. It dates to 1985, when one of his patients, a black man, walked in one day for a root canal, Rosen says. Like many African-Americans, the man had a problem with ingrown hairs causing infections. But after the operation, the patient told Rosen that his skin problem had suddenly cleared up. This piqued the dentist's interest. He started researching the patient's medical history and, after eliminating other sources, concluded that it was actually the aspirin in percodan, a drug Rosen had prescribed for pains that caused the man's skin to clear. Aspirin, he discovered, squeezes follicles and causes hair to straighten.

Once he had isolated the agent, Rosen needed a guide to the cosmetics industry and a partner to help develop the product. He found both in James Agard, a chemist who had been let go from his position as vice president of manufacturing at Atlanta-based M&M Products Co. In the '80s, the company had been one of the largest hair-product manufacturers for black males in the country.

Rosen, who had done business with M&M, could not have known at the time, during the late '80s, that Agard was going through one of the roughest periods in his life. Unable to find another job in Georgia and hurting for cash, he had reluctantly accepted a position in Chicago. Separated from his family, he was restless and miserable.

When Rosen conjured up visions of money and glory, Agard contends, he bit. The two worked for a year developing a formula by fooling around with different chemical mixtures. Strangely, though, Agard says, during the entire process, he never met the dentist face to face. Rosen preferred to conduct business over the phone, the Atlanta chemist contends. The two communicated every few weeks, and after about a year of work, they finally hit upon a recipe.

It was around that time, Agard recalls, that Rosen started getting chilly, not returning phone calls, and acting "like a loose cannon." Looking back, Agard says, there were lots of subtle signs that Rosen was not the ideal business partner, but the chemist chalked them up to character quirks. "He was always a little off-the-wall, but he was always saying, 'No, no, it's the result of this crazy girlfriend' he has." Agard pauses for a second. "I wonder if he even had a girlfriend." (I didn't have a chance to ask Rosen about his relationship with the chemist.)

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