Disagreements and misunderstandings involving pets can quickly escalate into heated arguments that may lead to litigation. Increasingly, people are turning to mediation to resolve these issues. Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution process in which a neutral party guides the discussions between disputing parties, enabling both sides to share their points of view and then work together to create acceptable solutions. Often parties each feel as if they have won. This article provides some examples of instances where people involved in a misunderstanding involving a pet can use mediation as a productive alternative to litigation.
Q: How do I talk to my neighbors about their barking dog?
A: Having this conversation on your own can be frightening, frustrating or even dangerous. It is wiser to schedule the discussion in a neutral location, preferably in a community or private mediation setting and not while anyone is angry. The neutral facilitator and setting generally helps the parties to keep anger at bay. Community mediation services are often free, or you can hire an independent mediator, which would entail splitting costs between the neighbors. The process allows everyone to feel heard, respected and understood for his or her rendition of the facts at issue. In the end, both parties will have felt heard and will have worked on a solution together.
Q: I am getting divorced and my spouse wants me to pay to keep the dog. How can I stop him from holding the dog for ransom?
A: Frequently, ‘Who gets the pet?’ is the final sticking point in divorce. These kinds of conflicts are often about much more than money. Often attorneys are not able to hold effective discussions between the parties about the reasons for keeping the dog or the associated costs. You may want to engage a mediator to help guide this specific conversation. A mediated discussion about who gets the pet will, for example, help to clarify why the pet is important to both parties, and to focus on what's best for the pet. Such a discussion helps parties find a middle ground.
Q: My dog has a congenital defect, and the breeder isn’t willing to talk to me about the problem. How do I get some answers and reimbursement for costs without suing the breeder?
A: Getting the parties to discuss these kinds of delicate issues can be a challenge. How you initially approach each party is key to reaching a successful resolution. First, get all the clinical information about the health of your dog, including a brief letter from the vet outlining the medical findings. When you speak to the breeder, try to avoid an accusatory tone and use the term “we” instead of “you” to indicate your willingness to work together to find a solution. Whether it is a rescue pup or a pup from a pet store or breeders, the parties supplying the dog often see health complaints as a criticism of their entire process or breeding program. Unfortunate things happen even to the best of pet suppliers. How you approach them in forging a solution makes a big difference in the outcome. A mediated discussion is often beneficial to fostering a respectful conversation and an acceptable outcome.
Q: A vet gave my dog a drug I specifically said should not be used. I want to talk with the vet and maybe get some money back for the cost of follow-up treatment. Is there anything I can do short of litigation?
A: Veterinarians must sometimes make split second decisions about how best to save a pet. Afterwards, their hands are often tied by the terms of their malpractice insurance when it comes to discussing the case with a client. If you want to speak to your vet, refrain from using the words “I am going to sue you.” Try to leave your emotions at the door. Approaching a vet to discuss his or her best practices is difficult in the best of circumstances. If you want to have this conversation, approach it from a position of wanting knowledge rather than trying to prove your position. You can also ask to mediate the conversation you would like to have. It is a confidential process. You and the vet are safe to speak freely about the incident without incurring future liability for things you might say, if future litigation is started.
Q: My mother is moving to an assisted living facility that permits dog, but I’m concerned that she will not follow the facility’s pet rules. How can I help my mother keep her dog while assuring the facility that the rules will be followed?
A: It can be difficult to initiate discussions between your mother and the facility owner about pet rules that help the facility function. Have your mother and the facility owner talk peacefully about why the rules are necessary before they are broken. It will provide clearer understanding about why the rules are in place and may enable your mother and the facility owner to discuss how to make these rules meet everyone's needs. To facilitate this discussion after an incident has occurred, you may want to consider hiring a mediator who specializes in elder conflicts. The mediator will help everyone ask the right questions, which will help the parties discover where they agree and disagree and find a solution to the conflict.
Q: Where can I find more information about mediation services?
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Debra Vey Voda Hamilton, Esq., Hamilton Law and Mediation (www.hamiltonlawandmediation.com).