There is a truly horrific story out of Fort Worth where a well-known veterinary clinic is under investigation for allegedly keeping a dog alive in disgusting conditions to be tapped for blood transfusions . . . months after the family paid to have the dog put down. Camp Bowie Animal Clinic is accused of leaving 5-year-old Leonberger Sida covered in feces as a type of blood factory.
Jamie and Marian Harris say that they took Sid to the clinic to be treated for a minor anal gland issue. However, after the treatment, Sid had trouble walking and the veterinarian said that he had a spine condition that would only grow worse with time. The family said that they were advised to put him down. They paid those costs and said goodbye. However, six months later, they received a call from veterinarian technician, Mary Brewer, who told them Sid was alive and being used for blood transfusions. She said that he could walk and could leave at any time. Several animals were seized and it is not clear what happened to Brewer who is responsible for saving the dog.
The Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners will meet in Austin to discuss the case but the question remains of the range of likely criminal charges. This would seem to be a case of not just cruelty but fraud if the allegations are true. However, the true cost is likely to be secured not in criminal proceedings but a civil lawsuit. There is obvious claims for negligence, infliction of emotional distress, trespass to chattel etc.
The clinic is run by Dr. Lou Tierce who has been arrested on animal cruelty charges. If the police believe the family’s allegation, that would seem an insufficient charge but it is common for additional charges to be add after an initial arrest. The case could present some interesting issues related to the scope (and value) of theft if it involves the blood of a pet as well as basis for fraud in the use of a dog in this fashion. While some countries have moved to change the status of pets as we recently discussed, Sid remains chattel or property in the United States. However, the Texas statute has definition of appropriation, deception, and other key terms that seem to fit this case:
§ 31.01. DEFINITIONS. In this chapter:
(1) “Deception” means:
(A) creating or confirming by words or conduct a false impression of law or fact that is likely to affect the judgment of another in the transaction, and that the actor does not believe to be true;
(B) failing to correct a false impression of law or fact that is likely to affect the judgment of another in the transaction, that the actor previously created or confirmed by words or conduct, and that the actor does not now believe to be true;
(C) preventing another from acquiring information likely to affect his judgment in the transaction;
(D) selling or otherwise transferring or encumbering property without disclosing a lien, security interest, adverse claim, or other legal impediment to the enjoyment of the property, whether the lien, security interest, claim, or impediment is or is not valid, or is or is not a matter of official record; or
(E) promising performance that is likely to affect the judgment of another in the transaction and that the actor does not intend to perform or knows will not be performed, except that failure to perform the promise in issue without other evidence of intent or knowledge is not sufficient proof that the actor did not intend to perform or knew the promise would not be performed.
(2) “Deprive” means:
(A) to withhold property from the owner permanently or for so extended a period of time that a major portion of the value or enjoyment of the property is lost to the owner;
(B) to restore property only upon payment of reward or other compensation; or
(C) to dispose of property in a manner that makes recovery of the property by the owner unlikely.
(3) “Effective consent” includes consent by a person legally authorized to act for the owner. Consent is not effective if:
(A) induced by deception or coercion;
(B) given by a person the actor knows is not legally authorized to act for the owner;
(C) given by a person who by reason of youth, mental disease or defect, or intoxication is known by the actor to be unable to make reasonable property dispositions;
(D) given solely to detect the commission of an offense; or
(E) given by a person who by reason of advanced age is known by the actor to have a diminished capacity to make informed and rational decisions about the reasonable disposition of property.
(4) “Appropriate” means:
(A) to bring about a transfer or purported transfer of title to or other nonpossessory interest in property, whether to the actor or another; or
(B) to acquire or otherwise exercise control over property other than real property.
(5) “Property” means:
(A) real property;
(B) tangible or intangible personal property including anything severed from land; or
(C) a document, including money, that represents or embodies anything of value.
(6) “Service” includes:
(A) labor and professional service;
(B) telecommunication, public utility, or transportation service;
(C) lodging, restaurant service, and entertainment; and
(D) the supply of a motor vehicle or other property for use.
(7) “Steal” means to acquire property or service by theft.
Tierce is quoted as calling Brewer a disgruntled employee and says “She wanted to get me.” Well it worked if that is true. Brewer said that she quit over the mistreatment of the animals. If these allegations are true, Dr. Tierce is one sick puppy. If they are not true, he has one heck of a defamation action. However, other families are standing behind Tierce. Tierce could argue that he was holding Sid to see if in fact he could recover rather than put him down right away. Of course, this still should require the consent of the family and further raises the question of the original diagnosis (though the dog could legitimately have the degenerative disease). In the end, he presumably took money for the procedure and the disposal of the body but did not perform those tasks. While he can claim that there was no guarantee on when that would be done, the obvious expectation is that it would be done shortly after the contract for such services.
One question on the fraud implications is whether, if he tapped Sid for blood, other patients were charged for the blood that he allegedly got for free. As someone who paid thousands to try to save my prior dog Molly, I can attest to the fact that blood transfusions are a big ticket item. That could be a basis for a claim of fraud or dishonest business practices if the other patients were charged the rate for blood purchased by the hospital when it was getting the blood for free.