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Woman Goes To Court To Prove Dogs Are 'Living Souls'

Elena Zahkarova (right), holding her dog, Umka, with attorney Susan Chana Lask (left).

When Elena Zakharova looks into the eyes of her puppy as it suffers from bad knees and achy hips, she does not see a defective product to be returned to the store for a refund.

The New York City resident believes Umka, her 1-year-old Brussels Griffon, is a living soul who feels pain and emotion. Now her attorney aims to prove it in court.

Zakharova has filed a civil suit in a New York court against the Upper East Side pet store that sold her a puppy who went on to develop numerous medical complications. The suit seeks to hold the store liable for the dog’s pain and suffering, as well as its medical bills, as if it were a person rather than an inanimate product.

Under New York law, pets are considered “property,’’ but the complaint is trying to change that definition. The ultimate goal is to help shut down the puppy mills, many of them based in the Midwest, that often mass-produce the animals sold in boutique pet stores like Raising Rover, where Umka was purchased.

“Don’t call them property anymore,’’ Zakharova’s attorney, Susan Chana Lask, told TODAY.com. “They’re not inanimate objects. They’re not tables. They’re not chairs. You don’t just throw them out.’’

“Umka is a living soul with a heart,’’ the suit reads. “She feels love and pain.’’

The ownership of Raising Rover has changed since Zakharova purchased Umka.

“I know nothing about the sale . The prior owner has all the records. We are very careful about where we get our puppies,” Raising Rover owner Ben Logan told the New York Daily News, which first reported the story of Zakharova’s unusual complaint. Logan declined to provide any information about the prior owner.

Zakharova is seeking compensation for past and upcoming surgeries and other medical treatment involved with Umka, which totals at least $8,000. She also wants a full return of the dog’s sale price plus interest since the date of purchase in February of last year. If Zakharova is awarded the money, she will donate it to an animal charity or animal-rights program, Lask said.

New York state currently has a “Puppy Lemon Law’’ that allows buyers to return a sick animal to a pet store within 14 days for a full refund. One objective of that law is to slow down puppy mills’ mass production of dogs that end up having heart conditions and other ailments. However, in a case like Umka’s, the medical issues did not become apparent for months after Zakharova purchased the dog. The suit claims Umka will never walk or run properly again after several surgeries.

“Umka suffers a disorder causing her pain, her legs hurt, she cries when she is in pain, she drags herself with her front paws, she cannot run like other puppies,” the suit reads.

“The Puppy Lemon Law doesn’t cut it,’’ Lask said.

If the definition of a pet is changed from that of property to an animate being with feelings, it could substantially change the amount of damages that could be awarded when an owner buys a defective dog born in a puppy mill, according to Lask. That could, in turn, have a chilling effect on pet stores buying animals from puppy mills out of fear of getting slammed with large payouts from lawsuits.

“It’s going to put a number on my dog’s broken hips that you created because you’re negligent, you’re greedy, and you’re mass-producing these puppies,’’ Lask said. “Right now, even if you return it, they just kill it, which is so inhumane.’’

Lask is an animal lover who owns a Chihuahua named Lincoln who was found to have a hole in his skull months after her purchase. That discovery led her to investigate the practices of shady puppy mills. She has waited six years to bring a case of this nature, fielding calls from other pet owners in the past, but felt Zakharova is the perfect client to help correct a larger issue.

“It’s much bigger than this case,’’ she said. “I am looking to shut down the puppy mill world.’’

The main issue will be proving to a judge that pets are living souls who experience feelings of pain and emotion.

“It’s a leap,’’ Lask said. “Human beings themselves have treated other humans as property in history before recognizing it was wrong. People will say this isn’t a human being, but they have a heart, so it’s not too much of a stretch to ask the courts to change the definition. Then we’ll see how quickly pet stores think twice before buying from puppy mills.”

“It’s already a felony to abuse an animal. If I kick my Chihuahua and beat it, I’m getting arrested, so that animal has rights. If they have criminal rights, why not put rights on a damaged leg or a heart condition? If we’re not equating to a human being, and we’re not equating it to a table, there has to be something in the middle.’’

Whether the suit is successful or not, it brings to light the practices of puppy mills and their damaging effects on animals and their human owners, animal rights advocates say.

“I don’t know where this case is going to go, but it’s good that it brings awareness that pets are not just a commodity and that we have to take this seriously,’’ said Sandra DeFeo, executive director of The Humane Society of New York. “We feel that animals are living, breathing beings, not a piece of furniture or inanimate object. People develop relationships and bonds with these animals, and you see how distraught they are when the animals pass away.’’

A 2011 investigation by The Humane Society of the United States revealed that Raising Rover, where Umka was purchased, was one of 11 upscale pet stores that purchased animals from Midwestern puppy mills with horrendous conditions.

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Lisa
8 years ago

Dogs and cats are an integral aspect of human families and are NOT property!  They are loved, serve our disabled and loyaly work with law enforement and help protect our troops.  And please, stop referring to Umka as ‘it’ – she, as all dogs and cats are, are not its!

Lisa
8 years ago

Dogs and cats are an integral aspect of human families and are NOT property!  They are loved, serve our disabled and loyaly work with law enforement and help protect our troops.  And please, stop referring to Umka as ‘it’ – she, as all dogs and cats are, are not its!

skg
skg
8 years ago

I sure hope she’s successful.  I personally would only get mutts from rescue groups.  But 2 of my sisters bought their dogs from the same pet store and had serious problems with those dogs (one just literally up and died one day with no warning — massive kidney failure I believe).  Both dogs had issues that didn’t become apparently for many months so a Lemon Law is kind of useless.  I honestly don’t believe any pet store genuinely gets responsibly bred dogs (and people need to stop breeding dogs anyway…come on now!!!  aren’t there enough out there already???).  So good luck, and bring down those puppy mills once and for all!!!

skg
skg
8 years ago

I sure hope she’s successful.  I personally would only get mutts from rescue groups.  But 2 of my sisters bought their dogs from the same pet store and had serious problems with those dogs (one just literally up and died one day with no warning — massive kidney failure I believe).  Both dogs had issues that didn’t become apparently for many months so a Lemon Law is kind of useless.  I honestly don’t believe any pet store genuinely gets responsibly bred dogs (and people need to stop breeding dogs anyway…come on now!!!  aren’t there enough out there already???).  So good luck, and bring down those puppy mills once and for all!!!

skg
skg
8 years ago

I sure hope she’s successful.  I personally would only get mutts from rescue groups.  But 2 of my sisters bought their dogs from the same pet store and had serious problems with those dogs (one just literally up and died one day with no warning — massive kidney failure I believe).  Both dogs had issues that didn’t become apparently for many months so a Lemon Law is kind of useless.  I honestly don’t believe any pet store genuinely gets responsibly bred dogs (and people need to stop breeding dogs anyway…come on now!!!  aren’t there enough out there already???).  So good luck, and bring down those puppy mills once and for all!!!

Michelle Hughes
8 years ago

@skg……that’s really sad. I hope she is successful too. The way these puppy millers treat animals in absolutely archaic in thinking that a dog or cat can’t feel pain. Humans are such a disgrace to the planet. 

marty
marty
8 years ago

Good Luck  I’m  Praying That u  Win Your Cast  ..THank Got For People Like You….

Lisa
Lisa
8 years ago

Best of luck to you! I’ll be praying you win this case!!

None
None
8 years ago

If this woman blames puppy mills and pet stores why the hell did she buy from one?! Did they offer a payment plan? Next time go to a reputable breeder and get a dog with a health gaurentee!!! She just supported these puppy mills they are bashing. People like this are unbelievable. Rescue a dog or buy from a reputable breeder! That’s how you eliminate puppy mills. BAN PET stores and help shut down mulls. Now she has the nerve to sue when people KNOW puppyills are where these cute pet store puppies come from. This is sickening. I feel absoulutly horrible forth dog, not the owner.

Leona Ebert
Leona Ebert
8 years ago

animals are not property they are now treated like family and I hope and pray that the law will change and we have stiffer laws on puppy mills and animal abusers they both should be federal offences and have hefty fines and long term prison sentences! we should stop refering to animals as its or property!!!

Nun4u_ont
Nun4u_ont
8 years ago

Good 4 U, Yes Animals do have a heart and soul, more so then most human being’s that’s 4 sure.
Even a wild animal helps save humans lives, look at Dolphins. Even “Balto”  A True story Movie about a wild half Wolf & half Husky dog, no one liked but a little girl, who saves a bunch of kids lives.  Patsy Ann an English Bull Terrier true story, etc etc.

I have a book “The Complete Chinese Crested” and it states in there that an older Chinese Crested dog if seperated from it’s owner for a very long period, that it would die of a broken heart, 
So yes of course,  I too know They all have feelings.

We breathe, They breath, We bleed, They bleed, We both/all have the very same organs, and yes especially including They also have feelings and full of them. Including a brain in their headsThey are so full of love towards Us,  Animals are a heck of a lot smarter then what people give Them credit 4It’s pretty pathetic how a beaten down dog by it’s own owner would still do anything 2 protect and love that very same owner, no matter what. So who is more Humane?  Sure not Human.Please Protect our life savers, They would do it 4 Us without questionMy dog Piglet, an “English Bull Terrier” is My family, I tell Her I’m Mommy,  I told Her the day I brought Her Home that I adopted Her and have Her birth certificate 2 prove it, so I’m now U’r new Mommy, I did, Now I’m Mommy lol.Every morning when I wake up She greets Me on the couch,  I tell Her 2 give Mommy a hug, Then She puts both paws on My shoulder 4 a nice big hug, I love Her to pieces, She is My life.Good Luck in Your case, I hope U win.They deserve it.

Liz Hennel
Liz Hennel
8 years ago

We have to re-think our relationship with non-humans. We share sucha lot of DNA – with chimps we share 98% – we are cousins. With dogs we share less DNA, but enough to consider them close relatives. As such – would have your cousin put to sleep when s/he shows signs of genetically inherited health problems? Would you return her to the hospital where she was born??? I think not.
Puppy mills (or puppy farms as they are known in the UK)  are disgusting, morally reprehensible and generally obnoxious. Close ’em down asap!

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