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Thursday, Feb. 2, 2006 02:21 am

It’s a dog’s world

Owners of dogs that bite other dogs could pay big-time

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Brandy, R.I.P.
Tragedy struck when Brandy was getting ready for her morning walk in her owner’s neighborhood near Lake Springfield. From across the street dashed a neighbor’s rottweiler. Brandy, a 4-year-old shih tzu, weighed about 10 pounds. A rottweiler tops out at more than 100 pounds. Tethered to a leash in her owner’s front yard, Brandy didn’t have a chance. “That dog ripped her belly open,” recalls Judy Randazzo, who owned Brandy with her husband, Jasper. Randazzo risked her life trying to save Brandy, throwing herself atop the rottweiler as it held a member of her family in its mouth, shaking the tiny dog from side to side. “I straddled that dog, trying to pull him off my girl,” she says. “We loved her. She was just like a kid to us.” After the neighbor’s son came over with a snow shovel and whacked the rottweiler a few times, Randazzo says, she was finally able to pull Brandy free. Brandy’s veterinarian dropped everything for several hours, cleaning dirt from the little dog’s gut and pumping her full of antibiotics. At one point, he even performed CPR. All the warming blankets and prayers and sutures in the world made no difference, though. Brandy died in the early afternoon, about four hours after the Dec. 27 attack. “She couldn’t kick out of the shock,” Randazzo says. Randazzo started with the state’s attorney’s office. She says she was told to hire a private attorney. Then she called the police department, which told her to call animal control. A Sangamon County animal-control official gave her the bad news: The rottweiler could be impounded, but only long enough to make sure that the dog had been vaccinated against rabies. If its owners chose to retrieve it, the dog could be back in the neighborhood in a week’s time. In the end, the rottweiler’s owner decided not to claim the animal, and so it was euthanized on Jan. 6. But Randazzo, who says that the rottweiler had previously threatened dogs in the neighborhood while running loose, isn’t satisfied. On Jan. 18, she and her husband sued their neighbors David and Roberta Stapleton — and they want a lot more than the $450 they paid for Brandy and the $661 they paid the vet who tried to save their dog’s life. The Randazzos want to be compensated for mental and emotional stress, anguish, distress, depression, anxiousness and fright, loss of sleep, loss of joy of life “and many and numerous other conditions and ailments.” All told, they’re looking for something between $15,000 and $50,000. The couple stops short of loss of consortium, but the Randazzos and their attorney, Stephen Hedinger, are hoping to take advantage of a precedent set last year when an Illinois appellate court ruled that a pet’s value cannot be calculated simply by what it would fetch if put up for sale. Courts have traditionally used market value to calculate damages for dead pets — but Blackie the cat was a different matter. Blackie was at a veterinarian’s office when someone left a door open, allowing a rottweiler to enter the room and kill Blackie. Blackie’s owner sued for $100,000, saying that she’d experienced nightmares, insomnia, headaches, stress and had also gained 40 pounds, all as a result grief over the loss of her cat. The defendants moved to dismiss the suit, saying that the damages claimed far surpassed the cat’s market value. A Cook County judge subsequently dismissed the case, saying that Blackie’s owner hadn’t properly calculated damages, but the appellate court last spring overturned the decision. Although six figures was probably too high, the court said, just what Blackie was worth to her owner should be up to a judge or jury to decide, and market value alone might not be sufficient. “That is the law in Illinois at the moment,” Hedinger says. “It’s pretty revolutionary. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be a compensable injury. People do get attached to their pets as they do children and other loved ones.”
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