Doggy Daycare Dust-Up Results in Death: Who is Responsible?

We here at Jones Brown Law see a myriad of situations and complaints from people that need and want our help.  Unfortunately, the law rules all and we cannot help everyone that calls our office or walks through our door. Sometimes we have to be the bearers of bad news. With that in mind, here is a story that came through our doors.

A prospective client reached out to us with a horrible story and asked if we could help. Apparently, the family in question had a family vacation planned and taking the entire family was not an option. There would be one family member that would have to stay behind. The family had to find accommodations for their 3lb female chihuahua that went by the name of Tico. After finding a reputable doggy daycare, the family took little Tico down to check out the place that would be her home for the next few days.

The doggy daycare was tidy and clean. The staff seemed to be sweet, kind-hearted, and instantly fell in love with little Tico. The family said their goodbyes to Tico and hit the road to enjoy their vacation. Although the daycare was clean and the staff was kind-hearted, there was no way for the family to know that there was trouble in their future and the future of little Tico.

While everyone got their own sleeping quarters at night, all the residents at doggy daycare were allowed to go outside and play in the recreation yard (rec yard). As little Tico entered the rec yard, she had no idea that there was a boss that was running that particular yard and saw to it that all its residents stayed in line. A boss that stood a monstrous 5 inches tall and 13 inches long from nose to tail. Weight? 8 whole pounds. The miniature dachshund that ran the yard must have had a feeling about Tico or knew her from the outside because as soon as he laid eyes on her, it was on.

As Tico walked around, checking out her surroundings in the rec yard, the foot-long bully watched from the shadows, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. He dashed from the bushes, his legs moving at an incredible pace as he sprinted toward Tico. The doggy dust-up that ensued was indeed vicious. A whirlwind of tiny legs and teeth that spun out of control as Tico fought for her life.

The first altercation came to an end, security camera footage clearly shows Tico taking cover under a miniature trampoline that was in the middle of the rec yard. Unable to fit under the trampoline, the foot-long wienie dog waited and watched for his next opportunity to pounce. After a few minutes, that must of seemed like an eternity, Tico made a break for it and the bully gave chase. The power and strength of the dachshund proved to be too much for little Tico, as out of the view of security cameras the fight ended in disaster. Little Tico lost her like at the paws of her foot-long assailant.

Although we have made light of the entire scenario of a dogfight between two of the smallest dog breeds on the planet, the complaint remains valid. The owners of Tico were upset and wanted “justice” for their dog. Tico’s owners were claiming emotional distress, pain, and suffering, loss of companionship and more.

What do you think? Would you award this family? Who would you find at fault? The Doggy Daycare? The owner of the dachshund? Here is what the law in Oklahoma says:

21 O.S. 1717- Dog as personal Property: All animals of the dog kind, whether male or female, shall be considered the personal property of the owner, for all purposes.

That means that no matter what you feel for you families companion and friend, in the eyes of the state and courts, your pet is considered property, not a living being or friend.

There is no case law in Oklahoma on this issue, there are cases from other jurisdictions that permit the owner to recover for emotional distress where the injury to the pet (property) was malicious or willful. Courts have held that a pet owner may recover for the emotional distress or mental pain and suffering caused by the negligent, malicious or willful injury or destruction to the pet.

Case Law:

Womack v. Von Rardon, 133 Wash. App. 254, 263-4, 135 P.3d 542, 546 (2006) (“[W]e hold malicious injury to a pet can support a claim for, and be considered a factor in measuring a person’s emotional distress damages. …[H]arm may be caused to a person’s emotional well-being by malicious injury to that person’s pet as personal property. … The trial court’s award for emotional distress damages is akin to a general award for pain and suffering,)

Campbell v. Animal Quarantine Station, Div. of Animal Industry, Dept. of Agriculture, State of Hawaii, Bd. of Agriculture, 63 Haw. 557,632 P.2d 1066 (1981) (holding that pet owner’s “and three of their four children” could recover “for emotional distress suffered” when the plaintiffs’ dog died in an Animal Quarantine Station due to the State’s negligence in transporting  the dog to a private veterinarian hospital because the law permitted them to pursue a claim “for mental distress suffered as a result of the negligent destruction of property.” The court also noted that “other states have begun to allow damages for mental distress suffered under similar circumstances.”)

Knowles Animal Hospital, Inc. v. Wills, 360 So.2d 37, 38-39 (Fla. App. 1978) (where dog owners sued a veterinarian and animal hospital for the negligent burning of the dog with a heating pad following an operation, the Court of Appeal held that the jury properly considered the plaintiffs’ “mental pain and suffering” in determining the award. The court ruled that the jury viewed the “neglectful conduct which resulted in the burn injury suffered by the dog to have been  of a character amounting to great indifference to the property of the plaintiffs’, such as to justify the jury award.”)

In the case of little Tico, there was no malicious or willful injury to the animal (property) so there is no course for action.

Jones Brown Law

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Our mission is to make accessible legal help and services for everyone by answering questions at no cost and with no obligation. We aim to make the world of law understandable to all. At the law offices of Jones Brown, we pride ourselves on principles of honesty, hard work, fair dealing and compassion in our representation. Our attorneys and staff are committed to adhering to a strict code of professional ethics. We dedicate ourselves to our clients’ best interests and making the legal process as painless and simple as possible for the injured and their family.

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