Woman Sues Vet Clinic for Extortion After Trying to Hold Dog Hostage

Advanced Critical Care only released Mojo for a second opinion after forcing Karen to sign a form stating that she was being reported for animal cruelty.

8.9.13 - Woman Sues Vet1

Tustin, California resident Karen Kelly is filing a whopping $1 million lawsuit against a veterinary clinic for threatening to have her arrested for animal cruelty because she could not afford a $10,000 surgery for her dog.

Karen’s terrier Mojo was struck and dragged by a car on July 31, 2011. She rushed him to Advance Critical Care and Internal Medicine to save his life. Initial treatments cost about $1,300, and she was told he required an operation immediately, but “there was no guarantee that Mojo would survive the surgery.”

Veterinarians explained it would cost $10,000, but Karen didn’t have anywhere close to that amount. She asked several friends to help, but none were able. She and a friend applied for credit at the clinic and were denied.

With no way to finance the surgery, Karen asked for her dog back so she could consult her regular vet. But they refused. She was given three options:

“1) Put the dog to sleep 2) Pay the $10,000 3) Keep the dog in critical care overnight, which would cost $1,500 in addition to what the defendants were going to charge [Kelly] for what they had already done, which was in the sum of $1,308.75.”

In order to take Mojo home, Karen was forced to sign a form stating that she was going against their medical advice and that they were “going to report her to the authorities for ‘animal cruelty,’ which is a crime,” according to her lawsuit.

Karen also did not have the $1,308 at the time. Again, she was “required to and forced to sign an agreement to pay said amount in full the very next day, or she would be turned over to collections.”

Karen would not be able to pay the following day either, but signed under duress, knowing it was the only way to keep Mojo from being held hostage.

The next day while Karen was at work, Orange County Animal Control left a note on the door, informing her they were conducting an investigation of animal cruelty on her. They later dropped their case after, according to the lawsuit, Karen had “already been put through severe stress and emotional distress.”

San Francisco attorney Corey Evans said under the California Veterinary Medical Practice Act, an owner’s legal obligation to provide medical care to an injured pet depends on the situation. Allowing them to suffer may be considered animal cruelty, but a vet cannot just hold the animal if the owner would like to take the dog to another facility. State law requires vets to report animal cruelty if they have “reasonable cause to believe an animal under its care has been a victim of animal abuse or cruelty.”

Karen is suing Advance Critical Care for civil extortion, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Because of the pending suit, she declines to publicly comment, and directs questions to her attorney, Barry Besser.

Besser is investigating individual veterinarians from the clinic, which was bought and renamed by new owners in 2012. Dayna Zane, the veterinarian on Mojo’s record (who no longer works there), will likely be listed, but the lawsuit will not be served until all defendants are named.

Though it is unclear what minor treatments he may have received, it turns out that Mojo did not undergo any surgeries, and is alive and well today.


Some might grumble, “well, she shouldn’t have a dog if she can’t afford it!” However, not everyone has $10,000 just sitting around in case of emergencies. They’d like to, but it just isn’t possible. What is possible is giving animals the best homes and lives with what they have. Telling poor people they simply shouldn’t have pets is, for many, akin to saying poor people shouldn’t be allowed to have children. Being poor is hardly ideal, but thousands of animals have been saved from abuse and euthanasia and are living well in poor homes.

The problem is not about being poor. The problem is that most veterinarians do not offer payment plans. They want cash or credit on the spot, as if everyone has credit cards with unlimited funds. How many animals are forced to be put down every year because the vets’ policy is “all money up front or none at all?” It’s time for a change so pets and their owners don’t have to suffer because of outrageous veterinarian fees and policies.



38 thoughts on “Woman Sues Vet Clinic for Extortion After Trying to Hold Dog Hostage

  1. I have been a veterinary technician for over 30 years. For 12 of those I worked in Emergency Medicine. Over the 30 years I have worked with close to 200 vets. In all that time, I have never worked with a vet or in a clinic that would treat a client or pet like that. That is disgusting. BUT, $1,000,000?!?! Come on! File a charge for malpractice or a complaint with the California Licensing Board. Though suing for a million is the American way.

    1. I thought $1 million was a lot, too, but after attorney’s fees, you’re really not left with much. And think about it – if she wins, I bet she’ll get pet insurance or start a bank account for pet emergencies! =)

      1. Well you never know what people will do with money. What is the truth is that the attorney’s will be the only ones that ‘win’ here.
        Usually the fees are a percentage of the ‘winnings’ after expenses, so even a smaller amount would net her quite a bit.
        I do think the amount is high though considering the vet that did this is no longer with the practice. Certainly reporting the vet to the board is warranted. Not sure what destroying the new practice will do.

    2. You have no clue what it’s like to file a lawsuit against a veterinarian. They will extort YOU, threaten YOU, harass YOU and make you the victim twice.


        1. i went thru the same issue , last night, still in shock…. fear, humiliation… panic, still trying to give my cat electrolytes…. not much sleep,,, this greed IS SICKENING!!!!!! UNJUST!!

    3. As for the comment about a million dollars being outrageous.. I used to agree with you about the American way was to sue and how silly some of the lawsuits are… Like the person who spilled hot coffee on themselves and sued or tried to sue McDonalds…. But a business especially one that is responsible for lives should be extremely careful… If there were no major consequences for this type of stuff it would happen more often. THEY would have all the power… On one hand that would make people think good and hard before they put this woman and the dog through this… On the other hand I hate seeing the threat of being sued play into decisions that are based on covering one’s butt… Rather than doing what they think is right..
      I actually had my own dog held hostage at a clinic in Canada… (Surrey Animal Hospital in BC) It had nothing to do with financial reasons… it was because I didn’t agree with the way they were handling my dog and I wanted to take her to a better place. My opinions were based on my experience in the animal medical field and I wasn’t wrong.. But I think in Canada there is less chance of getting sued for a million dollars and they flat out didn’t see me as a threat and thought they’d teach me a lesson for being outspoken around their other clients… After 12 hours of them holding my dog hostage without giving her medical care that she needed I had a big friend help me bust into the back of the clinic and take her out of there… The next medical clinic confirmed my opinion..

    4. I don’t know, I probably would. I mean, think about it, your dog has just been hit, they tell you up front that it is going to cost you $10,000 to treat the dog (which is absurd in the first place!) and then the try to hold YOU and your dog hostage!

      I would be pissed too and want this place shut down. I would sue for that but we ALL know whe won’t get near that much.

      This clinic doesn’t sound like they are very interested in the welfare of animals and more about making money.

      What a bunch of douchebags.

    5. Oh doctor, shocked are you? A nephew brought his healthy 5 year old terrier to it’s vet one saturday afternoon. Dog developed a hacking cough. Vet kept dog for observation. Owner called later to check but no phone answer, they drove there but no one on property. They camped out sat night all the way to monday morning when vet and staff returned, neice went to cages where her dog was dead. Great “observation”.

  2. PJ, I think she’s suing for 1 million dollars to make a statement and to force this particular vet into bankruptcy so they can’t do this to anyone else. Most likely this will go to settlement, and I am hoping that she gets an amount that is tantamount to bankruptcy, these people should not be in business.

    1. Complaining to the Licensing Board would prevent the vet from practicing again – going bankrupt won’t. And the vet at the centre of the allegations no longer works at that practice.

      1. The vet in question is no longer practicing at that particular clinic, but I’m sure he is practicing elsewhere. A complaint to the Licensing Board may only get him a suspension, where the lawsuit may determine that his license needs to be revoked.

      2. Reporting to the licensing board, just for a head’s up doesn’t always work-. I had a legitimate case, but I was given a big wave off. I think many boards are as corrupt as the Vets themselves and may even contact the ones that complaint are filed against and offer to let them pay their way out of them if you know what I mean. I think that is what happened to me.


  3. I understand loving your pet and not wanting to put it down. I do not agree with what the vet did but I believe if you have a pet then you are responsible for their care, no matter what the cost. I see she was willing to have her dog treated. Two evils do not make a right. It is truly corrupt to sue for that much money. Both actions are corrupt. One cannot seek justice with revenge. You can contact for malpractice but this suing is uncalled for and injustice.


  4. In general, I disagree with lawsuits like this and the ridiculous amounts; no one wins except the lawyers. But in this case, I think it is justified. What this vet practice did is beyond unethical and they need to be held accountable. A $10,000 surgery and the dog ultimately required nothing surgical? And holding the dog hostage like that? Total extortion. I’m in her camp. I hope the vet clinic pays dearly. They should be put out of business if this is representative of their business practices.

  5. for those worried about the vet or the practice going bankrupt, I would be very surprised if both didn’t have malpractice insurance. As an RN, I carry enough to cover a million.

  6. I hope she wins the lawsuit!! This vet should not be treating peoples precious pets!! I have read articles where vets complained that the reason it cost so much to teat a pet is it was like any other business.So if any other business does you wrong you sue them!!If you were treated that way by a medical doctor you would sue them too!! Pets are part of our family.What kind of vet does this to someone who’s pet was hurt and needed help.I myself carry pet ins.on both my dogs.But not many people can come up with that large amount of money.I believe she is suing more to make a point.Anyone who owns and loves a pet knows how much stress and pain she went through.I don’t blame her. for her lawsuit.We have an emergency vet hospital here too.I don’t trust their practices either.Its onlt 5 min from my home.I would never take my dogs back there.The only thing they care about is how much money they can get out of you.The first thing they want is a credit card.I ended up paying a huge bill for my puppy.They did all these tests that my dog didn’t need and charged me a fortune.When our vet opened on Monday she couldn’t believe what they did to my puppy.They exploded something in his leg.It was swelled 3x its size.Also tried to send him somewhere else for test that were not needed .Saying to me well what he had might come back.My vet said it was all unnecessary.Our pet ins at the time was Aspca and they would only pay for $286.of the $3025 bill.They said it was all inflated way too much.I will never take my dogs there.In fact one of the test made him so much worse he needed a blood transfusion.My friend took her sick dog ther e and they wanted $2500 before they looked at him She didn’t have it.Her dog ended up dead.Our local news people act like they are the greatest.Trust me they are not at all.So its time someone wins against these miserable money grabbers.Thankfully I have a great vet .But I will go miles to another emergency place.

  7. My dog has to suffer after being hit by a car,vets want money and i dont have that much now,so they denied treatment for him,im so sad,need help with this! Thats unfair to us

  8. Something VERY similar happened to me recently only my different state different city. My EMERGENCY PET CENTER took it even further by calling the police to come to the clinic and arrest me because I demanded to see my dog who was lifeless and on the brink of death following a very difficult surgery. I had prepaid 5000$ honestly w/o knowing exactly where my money was being applied…only that my dog would certainly die with my son and myself there if I didn’t comply. Fortunately I came up with the money In an extremely emotional and OMG moment. When I went to see my dog the owner refused to even let me see my dog unless I paid him 1000$ more. As incredulous and outrageous and unethical as that was I maintained my composure responded I’m here to see my dog I’m not going to argue with you over a bill now. (Some of the charges I had prepaid had been done and I was told on the front end anything charged to my card would be credited no problem) but as I feared I had a dying dog I was not there to argue the money or demand an explanation…merely to see my dog. When he don’t to refuse. I said I AM going to see my dog and I AM NOT paying you another dime before I do. I pushed past him. Found my dog laying lifeless with an injured leg that was not injured prior in a LOCKED glass enclosed room. I told the owner and PLEADED with ANY of his staff to unlock the door and let me hold my dog. None would and he said the police are on there way here to arrest you. I said that is fine let me hold my dog. I thought him probably dead at this point. I finally found the key got in the room sat on the floor and cradled his head rockng him and crying hysterically. This is how the 2 police officers found me. One officer almost couldn’t stand to witness the seen and called his sergeant who said she is abs entitled to leave with her dog. Upon being told this the owner went further into a crazy rage yelling at the officers calling the sergeant screaming crazy things like he would have their badges and “this wasn’t a McDonald’s where you could return it if you didn’t like your happy meal”. And he would have officers “who would do their job and arrest me the next day”….It took the police one hour to bust me and my dog out of there. Finally them saying we are leaving with her and her dog. I was grateful they were there.The owner forced us to leave the back entrance my dog could barely walk to the front where my car was. the officers assisted me helping get him in my car. We had to leave w/o pain meds which were paid inc in my prepay and when my parents returned later that night and asked kindly for enough pills to get him thru the night til I could get him to my reg vet the next day. They were told no..not unless I came to pay the 1000$ he claimed I owed. These are the facts..they are criminal. But not on my part. I cared for my dog thruout the night and my vet spent 3 hrs the next day treating his injured leg taking pictures of it and him. His prognosis is not good which is SAD And so unfair for a TRULY wonderful and beautiful 6 yr old dog who is part of our family. And NO ONES fault. His illness is not the crime…the extortion method of this clnic owner is the crime. He should NOT be allowed to remain in business. Ive taken no legal action. But it is the only recourse an individual has. Our vet community should force him out of business by referring to the other ER clinic our city has. I can only do so much by word of mouth. ACCOUTABILITY has to be demanded. At least the officers who had to waste an hour half of their Thursday evening will help me tell my story I’m sure.

  9. Me again. You are unaware these things go on until it happens to you. Those of you who think this woman is in it for the money are not familiar at all with lawsuits and how they work. She will receive very little in the end. She achieved her goal of forcing that owner to change hands and the vets involved to quit. It was her only voice. I was physically sick once home with Hershey. If individuals abdicate accountability over $ which most of the time is the reason they do…there should be some form of consequence. Especially when it is in the care of sick individuals or animals. At least humans have a voice and can tell someone what is happening. We are our pets only voice.

  10. My total now stands at appx 5800$ and we r not done. Those of you who say don’t go. You are saying just write him off which is an almost impossible thing to do when you your kids your family are emotionally attached to a pet. You are encouraged to get pet insurance but some of us have spent money to aquire the dog or cat…are spending a lot that first year in shots spaying neutering typical 1st year expenses. In reading the coverage exclustivities you question if it’s money wasted. Because it’s not like people ins. It’s designed to make money not pay out. So honestly pet ins is a crap shoot.

  11. vets are thieves! they will charge 30 pounds for a 10 min visit. there is No excuse good enough to justify that! and it wouldn’t be so bad if at least finding out whats wrong with your pet was guaranteed. not treating it, which I personally think they should for all the money they make, but to be totally fair lets just say that all that money should at least buy you a correct diagnosis. No, not even that. you can walk in and back out of their clinics and hospitals with empty pockets, a dead pet and not a clue why…
    I am convinced that most times they will not completely treat a condition just to make you return 10 days later and charge you all over again.

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  17. she should get more I had a place me give them 400$ so i could get him back so i could take him some place so they could save him & they did

  18. This is happening to us in AZ as well. We have 8 cats rescues, 1 is 19 years old now and has had feline aids for 12 years. YES we have kept him going and a good life. Now we have 1 with thyroid meds, 1 with colon meds, 1 with diabetes. The vets want to see them like every 4 months. I do not even see my doctors that much with my health issues which I am on disability for. every time it is min. $125 for the vist, the consultation before any meds or blood work which is every time for the thyroid, diabetes babies. So usually $200-235 per cat. They say get credit pay. HELL you still have to pay the bill. What is a vet going to do for a non-curable disease in a 19 year old cat with AIDS? We need only the anti-biotic and the immune support meds he takes…THAT’S ALL.. We have to stress him, traumatize him, drive 32 miles 1 way for the moron to say hummm looks good, don’t know how he’s still here. $155.00 Well because we have cared for him. The thyroid cat has had 6 blood tests in the last 2 years, all the same. VETS are nothing but money extortion for the life of a pet which to us is our children. I say either allow payment plans, fair ones, or pass a law stopping the extortion of $$$ for lives. Im sick of it.

  19. My cat Pippy is being held hostage by our Vetinarian until we pay him $1900.00. Is this legal ? He first wanted my wife to do web design then changed his mind when his plans fell through. The bill goes up $30.00 each day we do not pay.


  20. Don’t bash Vets. They have gone through many years of schooling to be able to help pets. Their patients cannot talk and tell them what’s wrong. These are highly skilled professionals who have spent a lot of time, energy and money in Vet school.

    Do you know how much it costs to go to vet school? Do a online search and see for yourself.

    Do you think their time and expertise is not worth anything? Do you know how much it costs to run a business? They don’t get subsidized or funded by the government. They have families to support and have to put food on the table for their kids.

    Some people who complain about Vets wanting cash or credit don’t seem to grasp that pets cost money and pet owners need to be able to pay for their pets, and not expect freebies from businesses.

    Do people expect freebies from grocery stores too? Gas stations? Dentists?

    Its not the Vet Clinic’s fault that some people have an inability to pay bills for services rendered. They are incurring expenses by providing care and servicing people’s animals – they have to pay staff, supplies, rent, equipment, diagnostic equipment, student loans, utilities, taxes, medications etc. Its not fair to ask them to do work for free. Would YOU work for free?

    1. No one expect Vets to work for free and as you mention there is a serious investment of time & money getting the training and they have a right to make a good living. I however feel that ethically there should be a focus on the animal too and that owners should not be gouged either in a time of distress simply because they’re vulnerable. I had a first hand example where our dog had a blockage and was quoted $ 8,000 for this surgery on 12 year old dog (have had it done for less than 1/2 that previously). On a related note also shockingly was later reading that 2/3 of pets put down are put down for financial reasons. I think this is shocking and I’d hope the threshhold number at which an owner would make that call would be higher than what it probably is but I don’t know exact #’s. “”(https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/06/07/economic-euthanasia-pets-increases/7790733/?fbclid=IwAR1ffDcGpOqK0ZmrHOb7DMeWXSYNW1PeJaOzGGI3XSiaCgKW3OscBId3GlY)

      Given the number of instances where puppies ear foreign bodies I shudder to think how many of these dogs might have been put down simply because the owner didn’t have $ 10 K. Do these clinics even care or do they just euthanize ? I’d hope the Caretaker inclinations would trump the undertaker ones and that the clinics would work with clients to get affordable happy outcomes. This is NOT a liver transplant were talking about.

      OWNERS : Get Pet Insurance
      EMERGENCY VET CLINICS – Realize that COST is a consideration and don’t gouge clients

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