Dog Owner Says Vets Tried to Extort Her

      SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) – An outraged pet owner sued a veterinary office, claiming it extorted her by criminally reporting her for “animal cruelty” because she could not afford to pay $10,000 for an operation on her injured dog, Mojo.
     Karen Kelly sued Advanced Critical Care & Internal Medicine (ACCIM) and others in Orange County Superior Court.
     “On July 31, 2011, plaintiff Kelly’s dog, Mojo, was hit and dragged under a car, and since it was after business hours, plaintiff immediately rushed Mojo to defendant, ACCIM, as they were a 24-hour veterinary center,” Kelly says in her complaint.
     It continues: “Plaintiff was immediately asked to sign an estimate & authorization for services, which she did, and the defendants, and each of them, started preliminary diagnosis.
     “Plaintiff was thereafter told by defendants, and each of them, that they needed $10,000 for immediate surgery to save Mojo’s life, but that there was no guarantee that Mojo would survive the surgery, and plaintiff would still be liable for the surgery.
     “Plaintiff advised the defendants, and each of them, that she did not have $10,000, whereupon said defendants asked plaintiff’s friend who was with her if she had $10,000 to loan plaintiff. She did not. Needless to say, plaintiff felt that she was under duress, and was emotionally distressed.”
     Kelly claims that a friend in the Los Angeles Police Department tried to help her out by applying for credit with the center, but it refused him credit. She called several other friends, none of whom could afford to loan her $10,000.
     Kelly says she asked the vets if she could go home and write a check, but they refused to let her leave because “they were afraid that plaintiff would abandon the dog and not come back.”
     She claims the vets also refused to let her leave Mojo there overnight and take him to her primary vet the next morning.
     The vets “gave her three options as follows: (1) put the dog to sleep; (2) pay the $10,000 now; or (3) keep the dog in critical care overnight which would cost approximately $1,500 in addition to what the defendants were going to charge plaintiff for what they had already done, which was in the sum of $1,308.75,” Kelly says in the lawsuit.
     “To add to the outrageous conduct by the defendants, and each of them, said defendants told plaintiff that if she insisted on taking her dog home, that she would have to sign a form that it was against their medical advice, and that they were going to report her to the authorities for ‘animal cruelty,’ which is a crime.”
     While she was still at the center, Kelly says, she got a phone call from Orange County animal control, informing her that the vets had reported her and that animal control would send someone to her house the next day to investigate her.
     “She was told further than she could be fined, imprisoned, or both, if she was found guilty of the charge,” the complaint states.
     “Needless to say, being accused of a possible crime on top of everything else that was going on, gave plaintiff severe emotional distress.
     “On top of that, since plaintiff did not have the funds to pay the bill that she was presented with, in the sum of $1,308.75, for the alleged services that Mojo had already received, she was required to and forced to sign an agreement to pay said amount in full the very next day, or she would be turned over to collections. Plaintiff signed the agreement under severe duress, as that was the only way that she could get her dog back, even though she knew that she would not be able to pay the entire amount in full by the following day,” the complaint states.
     Kelly says she got Mojo back and never paid the bill. She claims that the center sent one notice demanding payment, then made good on its threat to report her to a collections service, which stressed her out even more.
     Animal control opened a case against her, but dropped it when she explained the situation, Kelly says in the complaint.
     She claims “that many people have suffered the same fate at the hands of the defendants, and each of them, and accordingly, this complaint will benefit society as a whole, so that these defendants will not continue to engage in such outrageous behavior.”
     Kelly seeks $1 million in general and special damages plus punitive damages for civil extortion and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. She is represented by Barry I. Besser, of Orange.
     In addition to ACCIM, the other named defendants are Orange County Veterinary Specialists; Saint Jude Veterinary Enterprises; and veterinarians John Michael Walters, Andrea Jane McDooling, Dayna Zane and Ravi Seshadri.
     Orange County Veterinary Specialists emphasized that neither it nor Dr. McDooling “owned the practice at the time Ms. Kelly’s dog received care at ACCIM.”
     Saint Jude Veterinary Enterprises dba Orange County Veterinary Specialists acquired the practice by entering into an asset-purchase agreement with Dedicated Veterinary Care in October 2012, the company said in statement.
     Dedicated apparently purchased the practice from ACCIM “sometime prior to May 2012,” it added.
     “Neither OCVS nor Dr. McDooling rendered any care to Ms. Kelly’s dog which occurred some 15 months earlier in July 2011,” the statement continued. “OCVS and Dr. McDooling started a new practice at 3021 Edinger Avenue in October, 2012 and did not have any affiliation with Dedicated, ACCIM, Dr. Seshedri or any other named defendant prior to that time.
     “It is our understanding that the only named defendant who actually treated Ms. Kelly’s pet was Dr. Zane, who is not affiliated with and has never worked for OCVS,” the statement continued. “Drs. Walters and Seshadri who are also named in the lawsuit appear to have never treated Ms. Kelly’s pet. We are at a loss to understand why we were ever named in this lawsuit and expect that Mr. Besser will immediately dismiss the case as against OCVS and Dr. McDooling.”

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