The Kindness of a Stranger

PilotA puppy that seemed destined for the pound and possible death was reunited with his owner late Tuesday.On August 26, Josh Gomez, a 22-year old music teacher, brought his puppy, Pilot, to the PetFIRST Veterinary Clinic in Duluth, Georgia. Pilot was suffering from parvo, a deadly virus that can kill young animals very quickly. Treatment, which involves providing fluids to prevent dehydration, and managing related symptoms, can be costly.

Three days later, Gomez went to pick up his dog. He paid the vet $1,152, the amount he said the clinic had quoted him. However, Dr. Garry Innocent, the veterinarian, Innocent, however, said he never quoted that figure to Gomez and that the real amount Gomez owed was $1,640. That amount eventually increased to over $2,200, because of boarding costs.

Gomez felt that his dog had been held “hostage”, as the clinic refused to release Pilot until all additional costs were paid.

Georgia law allows veterinarians to “dispose of” a pet 10 days after demanding, in writing, that its owner pay the animal’s medical bill in full.

In a letter dated Sept. 8, Innocent informed Gomez that if he didn’t pay the bill, he would “report this matter to all authorities including Gwinnett County Animal Control for pet abandonment and disposal” and suggested that the puppy might be euthanized. He called Mr. Gomez a “jerk”, commenting that “all the twit has to do is pay his bill”. PetFIRST does not offer options like payment plan negotiations or Care Credit, a third-party loan for veterinary expenses.

In response to angry e-mails and phone calls that “were disrupting his business”, the vet relented and advised that instead of handing the dog over to Animal Control, he would offer Pilot for adoption to one of his “star” clients.

Tuesday, September 18 was the deadline Innocent set for Gomez to make good on his debt.

That afternoon, Carol Diamantis of Brookhaven paid $972 in cash to free Pilot.

Diamantis, Gomez and his attorney, Ed McCrimmon, paid a surprise visit to PetFIRST Animal Hospital late Tuesday. The cash Diamantis ponied up Tuesday afternoon settles the bill once and for all, according to the vet.

Diamantis said she stepped forward after reading news accounts of the pet’s possible demise. “If I was in the position, I would hope somebody would help me out,” said Diamantis, who brought her two sons with her.

The surprise visit prompted further theatrics, and the vet demanded that Pilot’s bill be paid in cash before the dog would be handed over. McCrimmon, Gomez’s lawyer, even called the Duluth police — to make sure the exchange took place, he said. Finally, a vet tech handed Pilot to his owner.

The dog jumped into Gomez’s arms, his tail wagging. Gomez beamed. So did everybody else.

“I feel better than ever,” said Josh Gomez, as he petted and hugged his puppy, Pilot, in the parking lot outside PetFIRST Animal Hospital in Duluth, Georgia. “I’m just glad it’s done.”

Credits: Ben Smith at Atlanta Journal – Constitution; Jason Getz, photography


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