Thursday, September 10, 2009
7 News Investigations: Death At The Door
Living in South Florida I bet you think you've heard it all. Guess again. This tale is truly strange. On one side, a veterinarian. On the other, a family. In the middle an unpaid bill for the family pet and as 7's Charles Billi reports, it all led to one doctor's decision to leave death at the door.
WSVN -- It's a 911 call that seems too bizarre to be true.
Operator: "911, what is your emergency?"
Renee Harris-Graziano: "Um, a vet that we had brought our dog to two weeks ago has just left a dead frozen dog in front of my door. I can't even open my door."
Operator: "Somebody left a dead frozen dog in front of your door?"
Renee Harris-Graziano: "Yes, it's a vet. A veterinarian did."
Renee Harris-Graziano made that call. Two of her kids were in their Hollywood home at the time.
Renee Harris-Graziano: "I couldn't protect them from what happened in front of this house, I couldn't, it was just there."
There, on the doorstep, the family pet Buddha frozen inside a large bag and left by this vet doctor Ronald Ridge.
The strange scenario began when Buddha got sick and Renee's son and estranged husband rushed her to St. Francis Emergency Animal Hospital in Pembroke Pines.
Dr. Ronald Ridge, St. Francis Emergency Animal Hospital: "The dog was unconscious and producing bloody diarrhea."
The diagnosis was grim.
Dr. Ridge: "I told them that given the dog's present condition, the outcome would likely be fatal. I told them treatment would be expensive, and asked them that they would need to leave a $500 deposit."
But, instead of paying, the doctor says the family left leaving Buddha behind.
Dr. Ridge: "The gentleman had gone up front and said he didn't have his wallet with him and he'd be right back. Two hours later the gentleman still had not returned."
Even without being paid, doctor Ridge still tried to save the dog. Early the next morning Buddha lost her battle.
Dr. Ridge: "We notified the owners at 8:30 a.m. the following morning that the dog had died, and asked them what disposition they wanted with the body, and what about the charges?"
And that's when the battle over the bill started to heat up.
Renee Harris-Graziano: "I'm really struggling. I don't make a lot of money, I do what I can. My mother called herself, and said, we will give you $100 now, and we will work the rest out, we'll pay. We love this dog and we are going to pay."
Dr. Ridge: "Nobody ever showed up here to make any payments whatsoever."
The back and forth continued, but with Buddha's body still with the clinic, the vet took matters into his own hands.
Dr. Ridge: "We knocked on the door several times, no one answered the door. We could see movement of the curtains, apparently someone peaking out, refusing to answer the door. I left the dog on the doorstep."
The family was stunned.
Renee Harris-Graziano: "I went to the door and I couldn't open it, and I knew, I knew, I knew they left the dog on the door."
And that's when she called 911.
Lt. Manny Marino, Hollywood Police Department: "Definitely unusual, haven't had an incident like this throughout my career."
Lieutenant Manny Marino with Hollywood Police says there's nothing illegal about dumping the dead dog.
Lt. Marino: "You are not talking about a clinic that randomly dumped a diseased dog in a public area or public park or even in the roadway. We are talking about a pet that was returned to its owner, personal property returned to the owner."
No charges were filed and the family was left to bury the dog.
Robbie Graziano: "We carried it from the front yard to the back yard, and I dug the hole, and my friends had to put it in because I didn't want to touch the dog."
Renee doesn't think this was the best way to handle the delinquent bill.
Renee Harris-Graziano: "You know, when you don't have a lot you feel a little ashamed."
But Dr. Ridge doesn't believe the family ever had any intention of paying for the dog's treatment.
Dr. Ridge: "They chose not to be responsible for any payments for it's care when I as a veterinarian was doing everything I could do to save its life."
As for his decision to leave the dog on the doorstep.
Dr. Ridge: "I regret having to be on camera having to explain my actions, yes."
Danny: "Do you regret your actions?"
Dr. Ridge: "A little bit. OK, I mean, I'm not happy about doing that, but on the other hand I felt they were trying to screw me badly and being very disrespectful to me."
For the family's youngest it's been tough.
Valentino Graziano: "She was my best friend and I love her so much."
But they'll try to remember Buddha in better days.