Bark and Bite: A Bellingham Lawyer Specializes in Animal Law
Like any pet owner, Lacey’s Kendra Vorhies-Flores loved her cat Mary.
“I got Mary when I was 11 or 12. We raised her from the time she was two weeks old. I bottle fed her and she slept with me all night and she was pretty much my little baby.”
When Kendra got married Mary came with her. But within weeks of the marriage her husband wanted a divorce.
“I didn’t really know why. I said no, so that was really kind of a battle.”
A couple of months later, Kendra came home from work and saw the cat acting strangely. For days, Mary wouldn’t leave the bathroom and stopped eating and drinking.
“I was brushing her and she had a really really huge red lump on her rib cage. I just freaked.”
Kendra brought Mary to the vet.
“The vet told me that she had a hernia and all of her ribs were broken. It was really bad.”
Mary had surgery, but a couple days later the vet called Kendra at work to say that Mary wasn’t doing well.
“I dropped everything and I walked in the door and I said, ‘I’m here to see Mary.’ The vet came in and said, ‘I’m really sorry, she just died.’ I mean, I broke down. I absolutely broke down in tears, crying.”
The vet said Mary died from blunt force trauma.
“The vet was like, ‘Well, someone did this to her. Was anyone left alone with her?’ And I said, ‘Well, my husband was home all day on Friday with her when I was at work.’ She just kind of pieced it together with the broken ribs and the hernia. She just came to the conclusion that he had to have kicked her or possibly smashed her into a door. I’m just hyperventilating at this point, hearing these things. This torture that my cat endured while I was at work. It’s indescribable, really, to think that happened to her.”
The vet called animal services and Kendra’s now ex-husband went to court.
“He pretty much just got a slap on the wrist and a fine of $1000. Was told you can’t have pets for, like, a year.”
This was not satisfying to Mary. That her husband could kill her beloved cat, that she’s had since she was 11 years old, and get away with it.
Soon after she discovered lawyer Adam Karp who has specialized in animal law since 1999. He thought Kendra had a strong case against her ex-husband.
“Perhaps because she wanted to work on the marriage, and not get divorced, he had to find some way to terminate it and to give her a reason. This was our theory of the case,” Adam Karp said.
In the end, Kendra won the case. She was awarded $25,000 for Mary’s intrinsic value and the emotional aftermath. Two years later she has yet to see a dime but…
“For me it wasn’t about the money,” Kendra said. “It really wasn’t. It was just about closure and doing what I felt I needed to do for Mary. It’s not just a cat, it was Mary. This was, to me, my baby. A lot of people said, ‘Well, you can get a new cat.’ No you can’t, that’s like telling someone you can can just get a new baby.”
Animal law cases are becoming more and more prevalent. At any given time Adam is juggling 60 active cases. He sued the city of Moses Lake when they forbid people from have pit bulls and Rottweilers as pets, he deals with a lot of dog hurting dog cases and even deals with custody cases when a couple splits up and both want to keep the pet. In the process he’s also created some important animal protection laws. For example, when a group of teenagers stole a cat off of a woman’s porch in Spokane.
“They stuff him in their truck, drive off to a middle school, douse him in gasoline and set him on fire,” Adam explained.
Adam represented the cat’s owner.
“They were caught and they were prosecuted but they were minors, so the penalty was nothing. We sued civilly, we sued the young men and their parents. The Court of Appeals created a whole new claim called Malicious Injury To a Pet. So since that court decision, eight years ago, if any person maliciously injures or kills a pet, whether or not you know the owner of that pet, you’ll be liable for the emotional damages that flow.”
A Buddhist, vegan and pet owner, Adam practices what he preaches and knows he is making a difference, even when the idea of defending animals is criticized.
“It is disturbing when there is a very knee-jerk, cavalier approach that’s taken to these disputes, in a way that’s almost condescending. It’s like, ‘You all should be focusing on what’s really important.’ But animals mean a lot to people. Even families that do have kids, they’re integral. Whether the courts want to see this or not, we’re going to be coming to the court seeking resolution and guidance. I understand budgetary crises and all, maybe there needs to be an animal court. But they need to be handled so that people have a sense that their legal needs are being adjudicated.”