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Grieving dog owners sue two vets

Misty died of a bacterial infection in August. The owners, alleging misdiagnosis, settle a claim.

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 13, 2002

TAMPA -- When he looks at the small patch of earth out back by his workbench, all he can do is think about her. How she looked at him with soulful eyes. How she loved him. How she loved to play.

Play Misty for Ray McEachern.

For if it's true that all dogs go to heaven, then perhaps all humans go to court.

It was McEachern's lone quest after the death of his beloved Boston terrier, Misty. Without a lawyer -- not one would take his case -- McEachern sued two Tampa veterinarians over the death of his "little girl."

It might be an unusual lawsuit, but McEachern is steadfast.

"It was just like the death of a child," said McEachern. "It really was."

He sued Tampa veterinarians Marcel Aumann of Florida Veterinary Specialists and Cancer Treatment and Carole Starita of the VetCare Village Animal Hospital.

He alleged that the small dog's deadly bacterial infection was misdiagnosed as cancer. Without antibiotics, Misty died within nine days, McEachern said. He sued for $2,500, which covered the cost of a purebred terrier and Misty's medical expenses. He said he also filed complaints with the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees veterinary medicine.

All this angry action, McEachern said, was a way to cope with the loss.

"I wanted to hold the vet accountable," he said. "Every man and woman should be held accountable."'

This week, the lawsuit was quietly settled.

That doesn't take away the sting of death.

McEachern, 63, rescued the purebred Boston terrier from a shelter almost four years ago. He and his wife soon fashioned their lives around "angel" Misty. They didn't want to leave her behind, so they bought a trailer. They wanted her to have room to run, so they moved to a larger lot in Lutz.

Pat McEachern, who is partially paralyzed, delighted in Misty's antics. Misty's favorite spot was near McEachern's workbench in the back yard. That's where she's buried.

After Misty's death in August, the couple started to gather material for a lawsuit.

They also posted a picture of 7-year-old Misty on their Web site, along with an emotional tribute.

"Maybe God, if he exists, will mend two broken hearts," reads the tribute. "But all the king's horses and all the king's men can't put our hearts back together again."

Thursday, Dr. Arthur Simon, an owner of VetCare Village, said his facility had "minimal involvement with the case and it was referred to a specialist." Simon noted that Starita moved to California.

Starita could not be reached for comment.

Aumann's lawyer, Michael Clarke, declined to comment on Friday.

Like entries in a prayer book, McEachern can account for nearly every moment of Misty's last days, from Aug. 9 to 18. The first sign of pain. The frantic trips to the vet. The cruel pronouncement of cancer. That was Aug. 15. On Aug. 17, the doctor said something different: Misty had an infection. Antibiotics were needed. Misty died the next day. That's how McEachern remembers things.

"I think they were negligent," McEachern said, almost in a whisper. "Yes, I do."

He's not allowed to disclose the settlement amount, under terms of the mediation.

"They essentially agreed to what I was suing for," he said.

Not long after Misty died, Ray and Pat McEachern heard of a Boston terrier at a puppy store in Oldsmar. They didn't hesitate. They named her Misty II. McEachern knows that some may wonder at his devotion to Misty, but he doesn't care.

"Any person who's ever owned an animal will understand," he said.

-- Jennifer L. Stevenson can be reached at (813) 226-3405.

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