Dog Death Prompts Malpractice Suit

To Ellen Riff and her son Adam, their dog Lucky was more than a pet.

"I actually thought of him as my baby, not just a dog," she says.

Adam says Lucky was the little brother he never had.

"He'd take a toy, play with it and put it back in when he was done," says Adam.

Lucky brought moments of happiness during a bitter divorce and comfort after the death of Riff's mother.

"It's really hard to describe in words what he meant, because I loved him so much," says Adam.

So when the 8-year-old sheltie visited his local vet for a routine tooth extraction and ended up dying a day later, the Riffs vowed to fight not only for their suffering -- but also for Lucky's.

"He suffered so badly, and I saw him suffer," says Adam.

So they filed a veterinary malpractice lawsuit. What shocked them was that their beloved dog was considered chattel under the law: a piece of property. And after depreciation, was worth less than the $300 they paid for him eight years before.

"If you have a family pet that you've loved for 20 years, it's the fair market value of the animal," says Daniel Bachi, the veterinary's attorney.

Bachi says his clients did nothing wrong and that Lucky had a pre-existing condition. But what really concerns him is where this type of litigation could lead.

"If you're going to give pain and suffering damages to pets, do you leave it to dogs and cats? Do you want to include frogs and hamsters?" asks Bachi.

So far, it's a long shot for the Riffs. No court has ever awarded pain and suffering to an animal.

"Regardless of what he is, he needs to be accountable just like a regular doctor," says Adam, of the veterinarian.

But unlike a regular dog, thanks to the Riffs, it seems Lucky may actually get his day in court.

"I hope to get a little bit of justice, even though it won't bring him back - a little bit of justice for his life," says Adam.