What happens if a pet owner cannot afford to treat her injured pet? That dilemma faced Marjorie Fredeen when she took her injured dog Prince to Dr. Richard Stride, a Portland, Oregon, veterinarian. Prince had been shot in his right hind leg, an injury requiring surgery that would cost between $150 and $300. Unable to pay for surgery and not wanting to see Prince suffer, Fredeen agreed to have him euthanized, paying Stride $10 for the service. Because it was Saturday and the remains would not be picked up until Monday, the dog was not put to sleep immediately.
Over the weekend, two young kennel helpers cared for Prince and on Monday asked Stride if they could try to nurse him back to health. Stride consented. Over the next two weeks, Prince made a good recovery. Maybelle MacDonald, an acquaintance of one of the kennel helpers, learned about Prince and, after visiting him, offered to find him a home.
Six months later, while MacDonald and her son were walking Prince, Fredeen — who lived in the same neighborhood — spotted her dog. Shocked and confused, Fredeen called Stride and demanded an explanation. Stride admitted the dog was still alive and had been given to MacDonald. Outraged by what happened, Fredeen sued Stride and MacDonald for “conversion” (unauthorized transfer of property) of her dog, mental anguish, and punitive damages. At trial, Fredeen testified that she thought Prince had been put to sleep and that she’d had nightmares, suffered emotionally, and was further aggrieved and insulted when Stride affirmed that Prince was alive and replied to the question of ownership: “That’s between the two of you. … I figured you thought the dog was dead and that you’d never find out.”
MacDonald admitted she knew the injured dog might be put to sleep but was not aware Fredeen was the owner. Her intentions were to save the dog and find him a good home.
As for Stride, he said he was trying to do what was best for Prince. He admitted he did not get Fredeen’s consent to give the dog to MacDonald, but he questioned her property rights because she had paid him to dispose of the dog.
How Would You Rule?
The jury returned a verdict against MacDonald and Stride, awarding Fredeen $500 for conversion of the dog, $4,000 for mental anguish, and $700 in punitive damages. In 1974, the Oregon Supreme Court upheld the jury verdict against Stride, but it reversed the mental anguish and punitive damages against MacDonald because her actions had been benevolent and not inspired by fraud, malice, or aggravated circumstances.
—Fredeen v. Stride, 1974
This reader favorite originally appeared in the September/October 2013 issue and was reprinted in the November/December 2020 issue. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
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