Last year, Robin Lohre, the woman behind the much-loved boutique Talulah Jones, shared the story of why she had decided to file a lawsuit against a company called Posh Maids after she and her daughter, Imogene, returned home following a housecleaning to find their beloved dog, Ruthie, dead under the dining room table. The case is now over, with a judgment in Lohre's favor of $65,000 -- perhaps the largest of its kind in state history, her attorney says.
Lohre views the decision in a larger context. "It's not going to bring our dog back," she says. "But I do think it was just, because what happened affected my life on many levels. And it also sends a message that a dog's life is worth something -- worth a lot in our lives."
As we've reported, Ruthie, adopted in April 2010 at three months old, was a "shop dog" -- a regular at the boutique who charmed the customers she encountered -- as well as a close companion of Robin and Imogene. But tragedy struck last August, after Lohre purchased a Living Social coupon that offered a three-hour housecleaning for Posh Maids at the discount price of $49. A maid arrived at 10 a.m., and Lohre offered to take Ruthie with her. "The housecleaner said, 'Leave the dog. She'll be fine,'" Animal Law Center attorney Jennifer Edwards told us in October. "So my client gave very specific directions -- that the only door to use is the back door, because there was a mudroom attached, and you can close one door and put the dog in the kitchen while you go out, so she never would have exposure to the outside."
At about 12:22 p.m., Edwards went on, Lohre received a call from Posh Maids owner Miranda Pallone, who was named in the suit. Pallone allegedly told Lohre the job was done, having been finished in fewer than three hours because a second housecleaner had joined the first.
"Robin returned about forty minutes later with her daughter," Edwards said. "And Ruthie wasn't at the back door waiting, like she usually was. So Robin looked around for her, and discovered her lying under the dining-room table. And she realized she was deceased."
What happened? According to Edwards, Ruthie got outside and was hit by a car. Afterward, the maid thought the dog was fine and put her under the table rather than getting emergency care, leading to the grisly discovery made by Robin and Imogene, both of whom suffered months of anguish following the incident.
In a subsequent interview, Posh Maids' Pallone, who monitored the situation but was not at the house, told us that after being struck, Ruthie "seemed alive and well; there was no blood, no broken legs. She ran under the table and was growling and barking at them -- she wouldn't let the maids approach. It was an unstable situation, and I didn't want them to be bit, so I advised them to leave -- because what else could they do at that point? I told them, 'I'll contact the client, and if the client can't get there, I'll get in my car and go there myself.'"
Pallone disputed Edwards's claim that nearly an hour passed before the situation was addressed, estimating the elapsed time as a matter of minutes. She added, "I truly believe in my heart of hearts that my employees acted responsibly, and the company acted responsibly -- that we all acted as humanely as possible."
Nonetheless, a Denver District Court judge ruled in Lohre's favor -- and Edwards thinks the $65,000 figure sets a new standard in such cases. "I can't find anything reported in Colorado that's any higher," she says.
She sees the amount as wholly justified by the facts of the case. "Part of what makes this so compelling is that Posh Maids left Ruthie to suffer and die, and she had to die alone. I know Robin suffered tremendously reliving that, wondering what Ruthie went through. And the judge also recognized that Ruthie had health insurance -- so they could have taken her to the vet and Posh Maids wouldn't have had to pay anything out of pocket to pay for her."
The result is a ruling that she sees as "precedent setting" -- particularly given that pets are often treated the same as property by judges. In Edwards's view, "this court recognized that there was emotional distress for these people because of a non-human loss -- the loss of an animal. The judge recognized that when Ruthie was lost, they lost a member of the family."
Robin stresses the same point. "Absolutely dogs are members of the family," she says. "They can be the sweetest member of the family -- the one that brings everyone else together. They affect our lives in so many joyous ways."
No wonder, then, that she's adopted a new dog, Aloyisus, from the Denver Dumb Friends League. At first, Aloyisus was painfully shy, but with careful nurturing, he's become more gregarious and is following in the shop-dog tradition. "He loves to go to work," Lohre says -- and Imogene adores him.
In many ways, then, the judgment "brings things full circle," she feels. "It says that dogs are valued -- that this is an important thing."
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