ST. PETERSBURG — It began as a routine checkup at the veterinarian. Within a month, Liza Baceols' 4-year-old golden retriever had deteriorated and become anxious during followup visits.
In his final visit, he chewed his tail off and went into cardiac arrest.
Now, a distraught Baceols is trying to take the vet staff at Noah's Place 24-Hour Medical Center to court to recoup the losses she experienced in losing her family pet.
"I would have liked to just take care of it with them (the vet staff) and have them admit they were liable," Baceols, 35, said. "I want other people to know this is not a safe place."
Baceols, who has a 12-year-old son named Kyle, filed a lawsuit in December 2008 against Noah's Place, asking for more than $15,000, alleging negligence and for her emotional suffering.
Noah's Place and its attorney filed a motion to dismiss the case, and Baceols' attorney, Andrew Taylor, plans to keep the suit alive and take the case to trial.
"In the coming weeks, we'll be having a battle royal," Taylor said.
But, he said, it's difficult to pursue damages and malpractice in pet-related cases.
Baceols claims in the lawsuit that she took her dog Cody to Noah's Place, at 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 when she called about five hours later, she was told there had been a "complication."
Cody had not been properly supervised, she claims in the lawsuit, and had not been wearing a protective cone-shaped "e-collar" even though the vet staff knew he needed one.
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.
Baceols named several members of the Noah's Place staff in the suit, claiming their negligence resulted in lost wages, lost companionship and the costs of replacing Cody. She continues to suffer "mental, physical and nervous pain and suffering," the lawsuit says.
Noah's Place attorney Bryce Spano said he could not comment on the case, and a woman who answered the phone at Noah's Place said the same.
Taylor said it's going to be a difficult case because Florida law doesn't typically recognize pets as much more than material property. A dog is only worth what the owner paid for it, if anything.
"If this were a hundred years ago, when animals were only owned for work and food, this would make sense," Taylor said. "But our whole social mores toward animals have changed significantly."
The case could take months to make it to a trial phase, if it even gets that far, Taylor said.
Baceols hopes some kind of good comes out of the case, however it ends. She still breaks down in tears when she talks about the last time she dropped Cody off at the vet, thinking she would see him right after his surgery.
"I told him everything would be all right," she said. "Now I'm kicking myself. I feel like I failed him."
Emily Nipps can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8452.