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After a long litigation, jury deadlocks in case of beloved dog's death

CLEARWATER — Three years of litigation and a weeklong trial over a woman's dead dog ended in a mistrial Tuesday night because of a deadlocked jury.

It was a letdown for Liza Baceols, who sued Noah's Place 24-Hour Medical Center and veterinarians John Hodges, Jennifer Buird and David Hoch, after her golden retriever Cody chewed off his own tail under their care in late 2007. After hearing closing arguments from both sides, the jury deliberated from 1:50 p.m. until about 11:15 p.m. before coming back to the courtroom with no decision.

The jury was supposed to determine what Cody was worth to Baceols and her young teenage son, who considered the dog a member of the family. The case was unusual, as pets are typically considered property and their worth is what they might sell for on the market. Baceols argued that Cody was more than that and was seeking in excess of $15,000 for the emotional damage Noah's Place caused when, she felt, its staff neglected to properly diagnose and prevent her dog's death.

But the jury could not agree on what Noah's Place owed Baceols, if anything.

"You're not going to change anyone's mind," said attorney Bryce Spano, who represented Noah's Place and the three vets. "(Baceols' attorney) Paul (Puzzanghera) doesn't know what they were debating in there, I don't know what they were debating in there. We just know they were debating over something fundamental, in their opinion."

Baceols said she was disappointed to spend so much time waiting for a mistrial.

"But at the same time, I'm also okay with the fact that we can go back and do this again, if that's what it takes," Baceols said. "This is not over for me."

The saga began when Baceols took Cody to Noah's Place, 2050 62nd Ave. N, in October 2007 for routine shots. While there, Cody was diagnosed with a tumor on his tail.

After treatment didn't work, Baceols brought Cody back for a tail amputation in November 2007. She dropped him off, she said, and was told when she called about five hours later that there had been a "complication."

Cody had not been properly supervised, she claims in the lawsuit, and was not wearing a protective cone-shaped "e-collar," even though the vet staff knew he needed one to keep him from chewing his tail.

Cody chewed his tail off, ingested it, then threw it up. A veterinarian performed surgery to treat the wound, Baceols said, but Cody didn't appear to recover normally and later went into cardiac arrest and died.

Noah's Place has since been sold to a new owner, and none of the veterinarians in the lawsuit work there anymore.

Getting the case before a jury was a small victory for Baceols, and she and her attorneys thought a jury would sympathize after hearing the facts, despite the law that considers pets property.

Baceols sat nervously during jury deliberations Tuesday, as her 15-year-old son Kyle and her boyfriend nodded off in the courtroom. With each hour that passed, the defense appeared more hopeful.

Jury members initially came back at 8:35 p.m., claiming they could not reach a unanimous decision on the case. Judge Bruce Boyer ordered them to go back and try again. They came back 2½| hours later and said they still couldn't agree.

Baceols saw some hope in that.

"There was somebody in there that was really rooting for us," she said. "Somebody that wanted this to go our way."

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

After a long litigation, jury deadlocks in case of beloved dog's death 12/21/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 10:31pm]
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