Couple sues over dog's death, says life is dark without Shadow
Could set precedent on the value of pets
MONTPELIER -- A Maryland couple whose dog was shot and killed by a Northfield man is seeking unspecified monetary damages in a lawsuit claiming loss of companionship and emotional distress.
"I no longer sit in the blue chair next to the CD player every night reading Shadow a bedtime story and playing the music from Pocahontas," Sarah Scheele wrote on a website, www.justiceforshadow.com, devoted to the 5-year-old mixed-breed black dog.
"I no longer have a little boy to wrap in my arms and hug and kiss and tell him how much I love him and what a bundle of joy from God he is to my life. I can't get through any task during my day without breaking down and sobbing."
The case is the first of its kind in Vermont and could set a legal precedent for the value of pets, which courts now assess as inanimate property.
Lawyer Heidi Groff filed the suit on behalf of Scheele and her husband, Denis Scheele, of Annapolis, Md., in Washington Superior Court.
Lewis Dustin, 70, was convicted of misdemeanor animal cruelty in Washington District Court in December 2003. The retired Northfield man was sentenced to 11 months in prison, all suspended, and ordered to pay $3,423 in restitution for travel, veterinary, and crematory costs, and lost wages incurred by the Scheeles. Dustin was also ordered to perform community service, which the court recommended he perform at an animal shelter.
The ruling stemmed from a July 19, 2003, incident in which Dustin shot Shadow after seeing him wandering around his yard. The Scheeles were picnicking with their two dogs, Shadow and Lucy, at a neighboring church when Shadow wandered onto Dustin's property.
Dustin declined to comment on the case, but the affidavit indicated that he said he was having trouble with dogs around his house and that he was sorry for hurting Shadow.
The Scheeles are, by their own admission, extremely affectionate with their pets. The couple endured five miscarriages and, unable to have children, decided to adopt Shadow from a Maryland animal shelter more than four years ago.
Sarah has seen at least two grief counselors, but the therapy has done little to alleviate the pain. "It's hard because I know some people think we're over the top," she said. "But we don't really care. That's how we are. That's who we are."
Dustin's family argues that the Scheeles share some of the blame.
"The town of Northfield has a leash law. This fact was ignored by the Scheeles when the dog was released onto the property of Mr. Dustin," wrote Mike Charron, Dustin's son-in-law, in a letter to the dog's owners. Charron said as much if not more of the blame should rest on "the head of the person who carelessly released" the dog.