Lawsuit filed in poodle death

Norman Miller

A former Framingham woman has filed what her lawyer said could be a precedent-setting lawsuit in Framingham District Court against the Holliston Meadows Pet Resort where her dog was killed in June.

Holliston Meadows owner Dr. Rodney Poling, meanwhile, said Bette Schwartz and her lawyer, Robert Hennessy, are being unreasonable.

J.D., short for Jewish Dog, was killed by an Akita on June 13 when the large dog broke away from a handler and bit the 18-year-old, 6-pound poodle.

Schwartz, who was in California at the time of the attack, had specifically told workers at the resort not to allow J.D. near other dogs because of his age and being nearly blind and totally deaf.

In Massachusetts, animals are typically viewed as personal property, which greatly limits the actual value and amount of damages that can be pursued in a lawsuit. Hennessy said he wants to change that.

"In some jurisdictions, they have actually awarded emotional distress damages for animals," the lawyer said. "My theory is, and what I'm going on, and this may be a precedent, is animals should appreciate in value, not depreciate."

Hennessy said pet owners raise the animals, and invest money in them by feeding for them, paying for medical care and providing living space.

But more than that, a relationship develops.

"You build up a loving bond," said Hennessy. "Much like a fine wine or a heirloom, if you take care of it, the value goes up."

In the lawsuit, Schwartz alleges breach of contract, gross negligence by both the Pet Resort and Poling, negligent infliction of emotional distress and veterinary malpractice against Poling.

Poling is a veterinarian and said he tried to do everything he could in treating J.D. after the attack.

"My insurance company made an offer, and this lady called me back and said she wanted $50,000 to settle it," he said. "We've paid a ridiculous amount of money to have this dog buried and we bought a tombstone. She insisted she wanted the dog to be buried on the top of the hill with a water view, and we did it."

Poling said he paid $950 to bury the dog, and was set to pay another $480 for a tombstone when Schwartz told him she was suing him. The tombstone has not been picked up.

The $300 the insurance company offered was "a slap in the face," Hennessy said.

"She lost her best friend," said Hennessy. "She's doing terrible. She's living in California now. She's not working. She's depressed. She's in therapy. It's amazing how much of an effect losing a lifelong friend in such a violent way like this (can be)."

Poling said he has not seen the lawsuit yet, but said he is disappointed it got this far.

"If it's going to have to go court, that's the way it has to be," he said.

(Norman Miller can be reached at 508-626-3823 or at nmiller@cnc.com.)