law & politics
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Emotional damages not allowed
The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that guardians cannot sue for emotional damages when a pet’s death is the fault of someone else. The case concerned a challenge to the law by a family whose dog Avery had been euthanized in error by a shelter. A worker had tagged the dog with instructions not to euthanize her because the family was coming back with the money necessary to release her, but somehow those instructions were not followed.
Though the written opinion of the court acknowledged the human-animal bond, it stated that it is not worthy of financial compensation. Justice Don Willet wrote that although figuring out what a pet means to a family is an emotional consideration, that’s a separate issue from the legal determination of the financial value of a pet. That is why people can receive financial compensation for dogs who have value in the strict economic sense, such as a dog who appears in commercials or one who has been successful in the show ring, but not for a dog whose value comes from the family’s love alone.
Since dogs are legally considered property, the family’s attorney argued that financial compensation for their loss is legally comparable to the loss of family heirlooms due to negligence. The attorney called the decision a huge defeat for pets, and asserted that the family never cared about the money, but cared deeply about changing the law.
What do you think about the court’s unanimous decision not to allow people to sue for emotional damage resulting from a pet's death?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New law would ban this
If a new bill in Rhode Island becomes law, it will be illegal to drive with a dog on your lap. The purpose is to protect both people and dogs from being injured or killed in accidents. Distracted drivers are a danger while driving, and it’s hard to argue that a dog on your lap isn’t ever distracting.
Representative Peter Palumbo proposed this legislation last year, but it never came up for a vote. He is hopeful that this year will be different and that the bill will pass. He acknowledges that some people consider this bill frivolous, but he contends that it is an important matter of public safety, especially considering how many people drive with dogs on their laps.
The penalty for violating this new ban on driving with a dog on your lap would be a fine: $85 for a first offense, $100 for a second violation, and $125 for all subsequent ones.
The state of Hawaii does not allow drivers to have dogs on their laps. In Maine, Connecticut and Arizona, distracted-driving laws can be used against people driving with dogs in their laps. What are you thoughts on such laws?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Evidence used to solve crime
A man unintentionally left evidence at the scene of his crime that led the police to link him with a home robbery. DNA in the mouth of the family dog matched that of David Stoddard.
The dog had bitten him in the arm and in the leg after a human member of the dog’s family had been assaulted during the break in. Stoddard or one of his accomplices then shot the dog. Sadly, the dog died from the gunshot.
After learning that he had bitten one of the criminals, the police swabbed the dog’s mouth for human DNA. Around the time the genetic match was found, Stoddard was arrested for shooting and killing a pregnant 16-year old.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Legal issues involve drug-sniffing dogs
Later this month, the United States Supreme Court will hear two cases that involve working dogs. Both cases concern drug-sniffing dogs.
The issue in Joelis Jardines versus Florida concerns whether police violated the defendant’s fourth amendment rights, which protect him from illegal search and seizure, by having a dog sniff his door without a warrant. In other words, does the sniffing by a trained dog constitute a search? If that’s the case, the police must have probable cause prior to directing a dog to sniff even the outside of a residence. Jardines was convicted of marijuana trafficking based on evidence found in the search of his house, which was conducted with a warrant that was obtained because of the dog’s alert.
In Florida versus Harris, the court will decide whether a dog alerting to narcotics constitutes the necessary probable cause required to allow police officers to conduct a search without a warrant. The defense has claimed that the fact that a dog has been trained to detect drugs does not provide sufficient proof that the dog is any good at doing so. They claim that the prosecution bears the burden of proof that the dog’s skills in this regard are reliable. In this case, Harris was charged with possession of materials with the intent to make methamphetamine. The materials used to manufacture this drug were found in Harris’ car after a police dog alerted to drugs on his car door during a traffic stop.
The decisions in both of these cases could have considerable impact on the use of dogs in law enforcement.
Wellness: Healthy Living
A year ago, one of patty Glynn’s three dogs, a five-year-old Chinese Crested named Merry, became ill and very nearly died. It turned out that she had inflammatory bowel disease and required transfusions, among other care. Blood work, emergency vet-hospital treatment and after-care expenses brought the total close to $5,000; luckily for Merry, Glynn and her husband, Stew Tolnay, were able to handle the bills.
However, that experience convinced Glynn that it was time to buy pet insurance for all three of their dogs. When she checked into it, she discovered that approximately 10 companies now offer pet insurance in the United States.
By asking friends and doing her own research, she eventually decided which was best for her situation. Of course, Merry’s earlier condition was considered preexisting and excluded from coverage. Still, the insurance allows Glynn and Tolnay to rest easier, knowing that if their pets develop a serious medical problem in the future, some of the costs will be covered.
By the Numbers
But what about the unexpected, like Merry’s illness, or the puppy who swallows a sock? Plus, specialty veterinary care is now available — ophthalmologists, oncologists, neurologists — which means that the costs of care are steadily increasing. Even the average cost of a typical corrective surgical procedure, for dogs in this case, are enough to give one pause: gastric torsion (bloat), $1,955; foreign-body ingestion (small intestine), $1,629; pin in broken limb, $1,000; cataract (senior dog), $1,244.
You’d think that, faced with these numbers, everyone who has pets would also have pet insurance. Yet less than 1 percent do. Should you buy pet insurance to cover your pet, and your bank account? Unfortunately, like many things in life, there’s no clear yes-or-no answer.
Some are fortunate in that they have the resources, or the willingness, to go into debt for their pet’s care if necessary; they are, in effect, opting for self-insurance. Others, perhaps without extra resources or who just want to sleep better at night, like Glynn, prefer paying a monthly insurance premium of anywhere between $20 and $60 (depending on the age of the animal and the coverage) in the hope that it will cover expensive vet bills down the road.
Like all insurance, pet insurance is, at its most basic, a gamble. We pay the premiums hoping we’ll never need to use the coverage. If we do, our gamble has, unfortunately, paid off.
Before You Buy
Before you sign on the dotted line and write that first check, do your due diligence.
Read the policy very, very carefully.
Understand co-pays, deductibles and caps.
Know the policy’s exclusions.
Following are some of the terms included in policy exclusions that you should understand thoroughly before you purchase.
(Note that some conditions fall into two categories. For example, cleft palate can be congenital or developmental. Deafness can be considered a hereditary congenital condition.)
According to Karp, in all policies, unless an additional rider is purchased, “congenital conditions are deemed preexisting and not covered. Some policies bar hereditary and developmental conditions as well, unless additional coverage is purchased.” Karp notes that a policy he recently reviewed was one of the few to define a “chronic condition” to mean “not curable.”
“Thus, even if the condition went into remission for a year, if the initial onset preceded the effective date of the policy, it will be deemed an incurable and preexisting condition,” he says.
Make sure your current vet qualifies under the terms of the plan you choose.
“Another concern,” says Karp, “is that [few] policies cover experimental, investigative or non-generally accepted procedures, as determined by the veterinary medical community.” That is the sort of language lawyers love. Does it mean the AVMA? The HSVMA? Or some other more vague, local medical community?
Have a headache yet? Believe me, this is just the tip of the insurance-lingo iceberg. It’s complicated, confusing and a little terrifying, because the financial investment you make when you purchase insurance is significant and you want to be sure it pays what you hope and need it to pay. Each company’s policy includes numerous terms, conditions and exclusions, as well as dispute- resolution provisions. You need to understand them all.
Rolling the Dice
Here’s an illustration that makes this issue very real.
In 2002, Dana Mongillo, dog trainer and owner of Fuzzy Buddy’s Dog Daycare in Seattle, Wash., purchased pet insurance with a cancer rider for Mango, her healthy young Boxer. It initially cost her $20 a month. Over the next few years, Mango remained healthy and no claims were made on the policy. Then, the premium increased to about $50 a month. “Paying $600 a year for nothing is a little indulgent,” says Mongillo, “and I remained on the verge of canceling the policy for months. But then a vet visit for a slight limp ended up with the worst diagnosis possible: Mango had cancer.” The diagnosis came in 2008. Mango received treatment and care for two years before he finally succumbed in 2010, at age eleven. “While I helped Mango through the final weeks of his life, the insurance was suddenly very wonderful,” says Mongillo. “Every time I got a quote for treatment options, I knew the final amount I would pay would be less. That made it easier for me to consent to treatments that might help Mango, or at least help us find out the extent of the problem. In the last six weeks, he had a whirlwind of vet appointments, two sets of X-rays, an MRI and weekly acupuncture. Insurance removed the huge burden of the financial, leaving me able to focus on what was best for Mango and not what was best for my wallet.”
Here’s the tally for Mango’s insurance and vet expenses: Total premiums paid (2/2002–3/2010): $3,098. Total vet bills paid (3/2008–4/2010): $4,802. Total amount not covered (3/2008– 4/2010): $2,705.
For Mongillo, it was worth every penny, and she would do it again. She recognizes that in her case the insurance gamble paid off and Mango received the level of care she wanted him to have. Had he not developed cancer, she would have paid for insurance that she never used, but insists she would have been happy to “lose” that particular bet.
The second is CareCredit. This is a line of credit specifically for use at participating veterinary clinics. Stacy Steele, DVM, of Ocean Shores, Wash. (profiled in “World Vets” in the Sept/Oct 2011 issue) recommends this to her clients, almost none of whom have pet insurance. Like a credit card, this line of credit can be used for routine care and/or extraordinary care. There are no up-front costs and you select the monthly payment option you can handle. Depending on the amount put on the card, you can take from six to 60 months to pay off the balance (check the annual percentage rate before you sign up).
The bottom line: choose the option that will allow you to sleep well, knowing that if your beloved companion requires expensive diagnostics, treatment and care, you have the resources available to pay for them. If you choose pet insurance, read every word of the policy very carefully and understand what the terms mean before you purchase. Then, go have fun with your pup!
News: Guest Posts
Seamus shows up in a video game and political ad
Every presidential campaign season there is one issue that carries the day. Famously, it was the economy at the heart of Bill Clinton’s 1992 win over George Bush. And really, the economy is the central issue again this year, but that’s not for lack of effort on the part of folks like Scott Crider of Dogs Against Romney and New York Times columnist Gail Collins to keep Seamus in the spotlight.
If you’ve been under a rock for the past few years, it all goes back to Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s family vacation. Back in 1983, he put the family’s Irish Setter in a crate and strapped that crate to the roof of the car for a 12-hour trip to Canada. That this story is still on the radar, five years after it was first reported in The Boston Globe, is sort of incredible.
Most recently, Seamus appears as the protagonist of a video-game-as-social-commentary called “The Crate Escape: Seamus Unleashed,” wherein said family pet escapes from the car and chases after Romney. Created by Crider, according to a story in the National Journal, the game will be released on August 26, which is National Dog Day and one day before the Republican National Convention. Here’s a preview of the game:
But Crider’s not the only one making political kibble out of Seamus. Save Our Environment Action Fund featured Seamus in an ad about increased gas mileage standards. The gist of the spot is that higher standards mean fewer stops during road trips. The news inspires a Setter, who looks like Seamus, to hide from an actor, who looks like Romney, when it’s time to load into his crate. Check it out:
I’ve blogged about this before to the dismay of Bark readers who don’t want politics mixed in with their dogs. Setting aside the fact that dogs do exist in the political realm—leash laws, off-leash areas, breed-specific legislation, funding for municipal shelters and spay/neuter programs, cruelty laws and on and on—what I find so fascinating about the Seamus story is the way it sticks to Romney. It highlights how important this relationship is to many of us and how we feel we can take the measure of a man or woman by how he or she treats a beloved dog.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A conflict that’s hard to resolve
If you’ve taken in a lost dog, you’re not alone. Many of us have done so, and then made all attempts to contact the guardian so that the dog could be returned. Sometimes the reunion takes place within hours or days, but other times it can take weeks or months. At some point, many people have abandoned hope of finding the original family and simply accept the dog into their own.
That’s what Jordan Biggs did after months of searching for the guardians of a husky mix who came to her door in April 2011. Attempts to contact the people who had lost the dog she calls Bear through humane societies, animal shelters, craigslist, veterinary offices, posters, and going door to door failed. Once he had been with her for two months, she considered him to be her dog.
Since that time, Bear has become her service dog, having been trained to seek help if her asthma results in a loss of consciousness. They do agility together, which is one way she has invested in him in addition to providing him with veterinary care and having him microchipped and neutered.
Then, earlier this month, Sam Hanson-Fleming saw Bear, who he calls Chase, in the car in front of him, and was ecstatic that he had found the dog who had jumped his fence over a year ago, leaving him and his two young sons deeply saddened by the loss. When his dog was first lost, he posted craigslist ads and filed lost dog reports with several organizations. He wants his dog back, but Biggs refuses to give up her dog.
News: Guest Posts
The story behind Arizona’s HB 2780
Early this month, legislation exempting ranch dogs from animal cruelty laws passed easily through the Arizona legislature. Despite opposition from the Arizona Defense League for Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, county officials, media, animal shelters across the state and a large number of citizens, Gov. Jan Brewer signed it into law almost as soon as it crossed her desk. The bill, known as HB 2780, has a history as sordid as its content.
On June 6, 2011 Pima County animal control officers responded to a cruelty investigation on a remote ranch. Neighbors hadn’t been seen the owner since May 31, 2011. Despite the county’s anti-tethering law, three dogs were restrained by tie-outs. Two others were inside a filthy horse trailer. Food was not available. Investigating officers described the water as “green with algae that you could not see into it.” The water smelled foul. Dogs had little or no protection from the sun. Officers recorded the outdoor temperature at 93 degrees.
More scenes for the raid: skinny dogs and slimy water.
Obviously irate about the citations, the rancher approached Rep. Peggy Judd (R-Wilcox) who represents the district and asked her to support a state law exempting farmers and ranchers from Pima County’s anti-tethering legislation. When he talked to Judd he failed to mention his citations for animal neglect.
Not satisfied with merely amending Pima County’s anti-tethering law, the unidentified rancher pushed for a statewide exemption, enlisting the Arizona Cattleman’s Association, a powerful lobbying group. Patrick Bray, the association’s president, wasted no time urging Judd to pass HB 2780. Bray says dozens of Pima County ranchers complained about the anti-tethering law because ranchers may have to tie their dogs for safety reasons when rounding up cattle. However, there are no records of such complaints. The anti-tethering law has been in effect since at least 1997 but neither Judd nor Bray could explain on why it is so urgent now to pass legislation that exempts farm dogs statewide from local anti-tethering ordinances.
While Judd admits there wasn’t full disclosure about the case, she says, “I would have still pursued this law because of the knowledge of the necessity of tying working dogs in some situations on ranches and farms.” Judd, who was HB 2780’s main sponsor, grew up on a ranch in Arizona.
HB 2780, which was later amended in the legislature, prohibits local government from enforcing anti-tethering legislation against farmers and ranchers if “the activity is directly related to the business of shepherding livestock and the activity is necessary for the safety of a human, the dog, or livestock or is permitted by or pursuant to Title 3.” Title 3 is Arizona’s Agricultural Code that governs farm and ranch activity. The cattle industry already has numerous exemptions under state animal cruelty laws.
HB 2780 seems like it was misrepresented to lawmakers. Only Pima County has anti-tethering legislation. If there were no complaints about the law, then why change it other than to appease a disgruntled rancher? Judd, however, says she is proud of the bill. Ranchers she says “should be free of threat and that makes me as happy as anyone.”
Karen Michael of Arizona Defense League for Animals says HB 2780 is unnecessary, overly broad and preempts local animal cruelty laws. “It also sets a dangerous precedent by creating exemptions under local laws for special interest groups,” she says. Kathleen Mayer, legislative liaison for Barbara LaWall, Pima County Attorney, agrees that this bill was tailored for one person.
The case against the rancher is still pending in Pima County.
News: Guest Posts
Key decision but not a precedent
We all share this nightmare: somehow, our beloved dog gets out of the house, runs into the street…and is tragically hit by a car. Now imagine that awful scenario being the result of someone else’s negligence. That’s what happened to a Colorado family. Last summer, Robin Lohre’s dog Ruthie was killed after being hit by a car. Ruthie escaped the family’s home while a cleaning service was working in the home and Robin had left to run an errand. To make matters worse, the cleaning service employee knew it happened, found the dog and brought her inside, laid her underneath the dining table, and left—without ever calling Robin or a vet, or even leaving a note.
Robin and her seven-year-old daughter Imogene were devastated by the loss of Ruthie.
Lohre sued Posh Maids, the cleaning service, for negligence and emotional distress. Colorado, like so many other states, considers pets to be property. Usually, when someone negligently damages your property—say, your car—you can sue only for the replacement cost. However, in recent years, attorneys across the country have been making inroads, expanding the animal law specialty and pushing the envelope with regard to how our legal system looks at pets. When someone suffers a loss like the Lohre’s, suits for emotional distress seek to address the true wrong suffered—the loss of the human-canine bond and companionship—even if the state’s statutes don’t specifically provide for those damages.
In Lohre’s case, the defendant never responded to the lawsuit, so a default judgment for the full claim of $65,000 plus interest was entered. While on the surface this is a great financial result for the Lohre and her attorney, it’s too soon to celebrate. First, since the case didn’t go to trial and a judge didn’t render a decision, the case doesn’t provide the sort of legal precedent that others later can use for their own cases. Second, we lawyers have a saying: judgments are easy to get but hard to collect. Given that the defendant was a small business owner who didn’t hire an attorney to respond to the suit, my guess is that she won’t pay, and may even file bankruptcy to avoid payment.
Still, I see the case as a victory for this most basic reason: it publicizes the idea that our pets are more than simple property. They are our invaluable companions, and the law should treat them as such. The case is also a heads up to all businesses that send employees into peoples’ homes to provide a service: be as mindful of the family pet as you would a human child.
Here’s ABC’s full report:video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player
News: Guest Posts
Confusing rules about signage make finding a lost dog more difficult
How long would you look for your dog if he went missing? A week? A month?
Pat Panek of Littleton, Mass., has been searching for Bridgett, her lost Husky, for nearly four months. Thanks to tips from the public, she is not giving up—but her “lost dog” posters are causing conflict. Panek says some of the signs have been torn down almost as soon as they go up, and town laws are confusing regarding public signage.
“Every one of the last bunch was down in under three days,” she said last week via e-mail. “It’s discouraging. I believe that had I not been hampered in my posting, Bridgett would have been home long ago.”
Panek’s persistence isn’t just wishful thinking. She received phone calls reporting Bridgett sightings throughout the winter. Springtime weather is here, and the calls continue: The latest information puts Bridgett in a conservation area near the town of Acton.
It’s not certain who, exactly, is tearing down the signs. One Littleton citizen complained that a poster and sandwich board were obstructing vision in the town common; those signs were removed by police. Panek says she was then instructed to apply for a signage permit with the town, but was denied because she’s “not a town organization.
She’s struggled with town officials in nearby Acton, too. Panek told a Boston CBS affiliate that some local business owners have declined to post her flyers due to worries about fines. She said that she dates her posters to keep them from staying up too long, but they often are torn down quickly anyway, possibly by residents who just don’t like them.
The director of Acton’s Planning Department, which enforces signage laws, told the station that his team hasn’t removed signs—he said Panek is allowed to post them as long as she removes them in a timely manner. One of the town’s selectmen admitted that Acton’s laws on the matter are often confusing and contradictory, and that changes are underway.
Panek doesn’t have much time to wait, however. Bridgett, a seven-year-old rescue, tunneled out of Panek’s backyard on Nov. 27, 2011. She’s been spotted dozens of times since then, and has apparently survived the winter. Bridgett’s background is part of what’s kept her from being caught: She spent the first six years of her life in a puppy mill. After living in a crate for most of her life, getting her into a trap is nearly impossible.
Despite the poster problems, Panek says that the community’s reaction has been “fabulous.” Granite State Dog Recovery, a volunteer group from New Hampshire, offered its services to Panek, giving advice and lending her Hav-A-Heart traps and a trail camera. She has a Facebook page and hands out flyers, brochures and business cards looking for information on Bridgett. The calls keep coming.
“I know she is out there,” Panek says. “I believe she will come home soon. But if I am wrong, I don’t know when that cut-off”—the end of the search—“comes. I just know it’s not now.”
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