Doggie Day Care
Who Pays if Your Dog Gets Hurt?
by Karen Copeland, Esq.
My family and I went on vacation during the winter holidays and boarded our four dogs at [name of Manhattan-based, high-end dog day care/boarding facility withheld for legal reasons]. I had heard good things about it through articles in the press, but our experience was anything but good.
We called daily to ask about our dogs, in particular our 16 year-old Sheltie and our little two year-old Pappillon, and every day we were told they were fine. But when my husband picked them up my Sheltie and Pappillon were wheezing and coughing terribly. They'd never told us there was an outbreak of kennel cough in their facility, nor did they tell us our dogs showed signs of being infected, despite our daily calls. My vet said both of them had very bad lung infections and gave them strong antibiotics.
These dogs are my fur kids, they mean the world to my family, and I cannot believe that this facility would let this happen. It wasn't cheap--it cost over $1500.00 for less than a week of care for our four dogs. When we the facility to tell them how ill our dogs had become while in their care they said "these things happen" and it was "not their policy" to do anything about it when it does. Well I believe it is their duty to do something about it when this sort of thing happens. They should at least offer to pay the vet bills. (By the way, my elder Sheltie was missing a front tooth when she was returned to us, too.)
I am just so upset about this. Please initiate an investigation, or at least tell my story in the context that you often don't get what you pay for!
Many thanks - C.G., Oyster Bay, New York
I am so sorry to hear of your misfortune and the suffering endured by your animals.
There are actually a few answers. One, which you probably already know, is that you really can't safely leave your animals out of your sight, because terrible things can happen, and you will be left with little or no recourse.
Second, you could bring a small claims action in the county of the defendant's business for the amounts expended, up to $5,000.00. On the one hand, the courts are recognizing that pets are treasured by their owners and hold a special place in our society, but on the other hand, animals are still considered 'property' under the law. While the courts are slowly recognizing the emotional value of animals to their guardians, the amounts granted for the injury or loss of an animal are quite small, and are generally dwarfed by the cost of litigation, which can be considerable. I say this because it's possible a small claims court judge could value your 16 year-old dog for less than $20.00, no matter how beloved she is by you or how much you spent at the vet for her.
I am unaware of any case in which the courts have awarded any damages for pain and suffering for animals. Hopefully, our courts will continue to recognize that animals are unique and can't be valued in the same way as other property. One possible interim solution would be for our lawmakers to enact legislation which would value animals in the same way as trees. Under New York law, damage to trees can result in a court ordering triple damages against the person causing the damage. Perhaps if triple damages were awarded for injury to animals, professionals who deal with animals (veterinarians, groomers, boarders, dog-walkers) would be more accountable for their treatment of the animals in their charge.
Do you have a legal question for Ms. Copeland? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. She may answer it in a future issue of New York Tails!