Norfolk, VA asked in Animal / Dog Law, Medical Malpractice and Wrongful Death for Maryland

Q: Can I sue the animal shelter if my dog became really sick after getting out?

My dog went out my door and went missing for a couple of hours. Later animal control got a hold of my dog. I took my dog out a week later since I couldn't pay for the fees at the time. I went to go get my dog this Tuesday and they told me that she hasn't eaten in those days. My dog was 5 years old but acts like a baby. My dog passed away this Thursday and was so sick ever since she was in their care and not mines. I don't think this is fair since she was healthy and well fed.

1 Lawyer Answer
Mark Oakley
Mark Oakley
  • Rockville, MD
  • Licensed in Maryland

A: You have to prove that the shelter had a duty to care for your dog, breached that duty of care in some way, and that breach of care directly resulted in your dog's death. You have articulated no facts to support how or what caused your dog's death. How do you know your dog did not eat something that sickened it between the time it escaped your care to the time it was caught and delivered to the shelter? Have you paid for an autopsy? Proof of death requires a medical opinion. Damages for loss of a pet is limited to the reasonable costs of medical care to treat your pet and it's fair market value. There would be no vet bills recoverable unless you took the dog to a vet after you picked it up and incurred bills. An autopsy is probably not recoverable as a cost, as it is not a necessary expense to save the life of the dog or provide medical care, but an elective procedure after death. The value of your dog will depend on the market for that breed, and unless it has pedigree papers certified by a recognized canine certification organization, then the damages will be limited to $100-$150, the typical adoption costs for obtaining another dog. It is also not at all clear that an animal shelter has any duty to care for a stray or escaped animal (beyond providing basic food and water, perhaps, if they take it in), or to incur the costs of veterinary care, etc., so I doubt your claim even gets beyond that first hurdle of proof. Unless you can prove your dog died on account of something the shelter did to your dog, you have no case whatsoever. Finally, you were negligent in failing to secure your dog in the first place and prevent it from escaping your care. Dog laws require owners to keep their dog on a leash or secured in a yard (fence, etc.); therefore the first act of negligence or neglect that led to your dog running off falls on you, and that circumstance will be raised in any lawsuit you file. Blaming the shelter that acted as a Good Samaritan by taking your dog in after someone found it running loose, without any evidence they did anything wrong, is probably not going to be successful on these facts, and certainly any damages allowed by law will not justify the costs and time to prove such a case. I am sorry for the loss of your dog.

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