Monday, August 26, 2013

Addressing Pet Issues through Mediation

Disagreements about pets can quickly escalate and lead to litigation. Increasingly, people have been turning to mediation to resolve these issues. In mediation, a neutral party guides discussions between disputing parties so that both sides can share their points of view and work together to create acceptable solutions. This article provides some examples of instances in which mediation can prove a productive alternative to litigation.

Q:       How do I talk to my neighbors about their barking dog?
A:        Having this conversation on your own is often frustrating and may even be dangerous. It is wise to schedule the discussion in a neutral location and not while anyone is angry, preferably in a community or private mediation setting. A neutral setting generally helps to keep the parties’ anger at bay. Community mediation services are often free, or you can hire an independent mediator and split the cost between the neighbors.

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 conflicts are often about much more than money. If your attorney is unable to hold an effective discussion about the costs of keeping the dog, you may choose to hire a mediator to help guide the conversation. A mediated discussion will, for example, help to clarify why the pet is important to both parties rather than focusing on the cost of keeping the pet.

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 such an issue can be a challenge, and your initial approach is key to 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. Breeders often see health complaints as a criticism of their entire breeding program, even though unfortunate things happen even with the best of breeders and breeds. How you approach a solution makes a big difference in the outcome, so a mediated discussion is often beneficial.

 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” and leave your emotions at the door. Approaching a vet to discuss best practices is difficult in the best of circumstances, so if you want to have this conversation, approach it from a position of wanting knowledge rather than trying to prove a position.

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. If your mother and the facility owner can talk about why the rules are necessary, they may then be able to discuss how to make these rules meet everyone’s needs. To facilitate this discussion, you may want to consider hiring a mediator who specializes in elder conflicts. By asking the right questions, a mediator can help the parties discover where they agree and disagree, and find a solution for the conflict.

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 ( Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

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