Claiming civil extortion, Karen Kelly of Tustin, Calif. is suing a veterinary clinic for $1 million, claiming that the vets accused her of animal cruelty for being unable to afford a $10,000 surgery for her dog Mojo after he was hit by a car, ABC News reports.
After Mojo was hit and dragged by a vehicle in 2011, Kelly took him to the 24-hour Advanced Critical Care and Internal Medicine Inc., and soon enough accrued a $1,300 veterinary bill. Kelly was then told her dog would need surgery, costing her an additional $10,000 with no guarantee that Mojo would survive, according to the lawsuit filed in Orange County.
Kelly did not have the cash to pay for the surgery upfront, the Daily Mail reports, and allegedly called friends and family members who did not have the money either, though one of them tried to help her out. When Kelly asked the clinic if she could bring Mojo home, the vets warned it was against medical advice and told her that '"they were going to report her to the authorities for 'animal cruelty,' which is a crime."
Kelly asked to bring the dog home, according to the lawsuit, "then insisted that she be allowed to go home and bring back a check," but the defendants refused, "stating that they were afraid [Kelly] would abandon the dog and not come back," and asked if she could bring Mojo to her own veterinarian the next morning. The clinic allegedly gave her "three options:" put the dog to sleep, pay the $10,000, or keep the dog in critical care overnight, which would cost her another $1,500.
The defendants then said that "if she insisted on taking her dog home, that she would have to sign a form that it was against" medical advice, "and that they were going to report her to the authorities for 'animal cruelty,' which is a crime," according to ABC News's report on the lawsuit.
"[Kelly] 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," Barry Besser, Kelly's attorney, told ABC News.
Though Mojo survived after Kelly took him home, an Orange County animal control officer wanted her investigated for animal cruelty. According to Kelly's lawyer, the charges were later dropped, but it caused his client "considerable emotional distress."
"Beyond the animal's basic welfare, any surprises like dog poison, getting hit by a car or eating panty hose, can run into specific costs and is not expected," Dr. Peter Weinstein, executive director of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, told ABC News. "We hope to work with pet owners so a pet gets the best care possible, understanding the cost of providing care."
He added that since veterinary clinics are typically small businesses, they often require cash, check or credit card upfront, though many veterinarians like himself will barter with owners in order to provide their pets with the best possible care when they cannot afford to pay the full amount.
"I got a signed lithograph from an artist for neutering his dog," Weinstein gave as an example.
Mojo is still alive and well, according to Besser, and it is unclear on what kind of treatment he received at the clinic, which has now changed names and ownership.
Click here to see a photo of Mojo, the dog whose injury sparked the lawsuit, as well as a photo of the veterinary clinic that has since changed names and ownership.