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Vt. Court Asked to Put A Price Tag On a Dog's Life

Bits and Bytes

By VLADIMIR NEGRON

December 17, 2009

The state Supreme Court of Vermont was to hear a case today that may award emotional stress damages relating to the death of a dog.

It all began in 2003, when Denis and Sarah Scheele, who were visiting relatives, let their mixed-breed dog wander into a neighbor's dog. The dog was subsequently fatally shot with an air pellet rifle.

The defendant in the case, a 76-year-old man named Lewis Dustin, is said to have always regretted the outcome and was aiming for the dog's rear end in the hopes of scaring it. Dustin has already pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of animal cruelty. He was given a year of probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and pay $4,000 in restitution to the Scheeles.

The Scheeles, however, have filed a civil lawsuit to collect damages for emotional loss. If the Supreme Court judge finds in favor of the Scheeles, it would set a new legal doctrine, one in which a dog's owners can sue for distress and loss of companionship, much like parents can do when they lose children.

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