Man Says Vet Refuses To Release Dog Because Of Unpaid Bill


Josh Gomez wants his dog, Pilot, back, but he says that his veterinarian is keeping his dog hostage.

Pilot’s veterinarian, Garry Innocent, said Gomez has a $974 bill that he needs to pay or he will send Pilot to the shelter, where this black puppy could be euthanized.

Innocent said if that does happen, it would be Gomez’s fault because he simply needs to pay his bill to get his dog back.

Currently, Pilot is in the animal hospital, and he is scheduled to go to an animal shelter on Tuesday.

Gomez, a music teacher, has filed a lawsuit in Gwinnett Superior Court, Georgia to prevent Innocent and PetFIRST animal hospital from sending his dog to an animal shelter.

In the suit, he said he paid the clinic $1,125 to treat his dog for a virus. He said this was the agreed upon price. Gomez said then the clinic added extra charges that he couldn’t afford.

Gomez also added in the lawsuit that Innocent and PetFIRST said “they intended to dispose of his pet up to and including euthanization.”

Innocent argued that he never specifically told Gomez that his dog might be euthanized.

The veterinarian said that when Gomez brought Pilot into the hospital, he told him that it would at least cost $1,400 to treat the dog. Innocent stated when Gomez returned a few days later, the fee had increased to $1,640 for treating and boarding Pilot. The unpaid bill continues to grow because of the $27 a day boarding fee for Pilot while he is still there.

In Georgia, veterinarians can legally hold pets when owners do not pay their bills. If an owner does not pay the bill within 10 days of receiving a demand for payment, the animal is declared “abandoned.” The pet can be sold, given away or sent to a shelter and euthanized.

Innocent said thousands of pets in Georgia are abandoned at animal hospitals and “get put to sleep because of owners like this jerk. It is carnage. While the law cracks down on Michael Vick for dog abuse, nothing gets done about Joe Schmo for this kind of abuse. We don’t want to put this dog to sleep.”

A Georgia Veterinary Medical Association spokesperson said that it is extremely hard for veterinarians to dispose of abandoned animals. He said that most of the veterinarians are torn between deciding to run a business and doing what’s right by the animal.

Gomez’s lawyer said this Georgia law is unconstitutional because animal hospitals and veterinarians are able to take a person’s pet without due process.

Gomez said he would be extremely heartbroken if Pilot was euthanized. He said he has already put $400 on his girlfriend’s credit card and took out a $750 loan from his boss to pay the animal hospital.

He said he will continue to fight to bring his beloved dog home.

UPDATE: Earlier this week, Innocent said he will not bring Pilot to the shelter because of complaints and a warning from Gomez’s attorney. Instead, he will give the dog to one of his clients who wants to adopt him.


79 Responses to “Man Says Vet Refuses To Release Dog Because Of Unpaid Bill”

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  1. shibadiva says:

    Stefani, yes some of the charges are for boarding. But that was the vet’s decision to keep the dog, rather than arranging reasonable repayment. Gomez claims the original estimate was what he paid. The vet says it was going to be “at least $1,400″. Last time I looked today, it was over $2,200. Granted, this situation has been allowed to deteriorate into a mess. I doubt that would have happened if this experienced professional had done a better job of working things out with an anguished customer.

    We can assume that Mr. Gomez didn’t anticipate parvo. It’s endemic, and there are plenty of pet parents who also don’t anticipate it, but it happens. We can probably assume that Mr. Gomez was as overwhelmed by his puppy’s illness as we all would be, and he took him to this particular emergency clinic without spending time checking out less expensive alternatives. We can also assume that, since he doesn’t make much money, balancing an onerous financial burden vs. letting his puppy die has made his life hell. (Why he would go to a lawyer is beyond me unless it’s pro-bono.)

    On the other end, we have an experienced veterinarian whose estimates are questionable and the bill is now substantially higher than the customer anticipated. After all, you can never tell with parvo. But he worsens the situation by holding the dog hostage - at a charge to the customer. This man, who is out “to save lives”, decides that his customer is a twit and subtly suggests that the dog could be PTS. What empathy.

    I am not a fan of returning an animal to a situation of abuse (which this does not appear to be), but it’s clear that Mr. Gomez went to some lengths to save his dog, and paid a substantial amount to this vet in good faith. Who is this doctor to play God and decide that he will give the dog away to one of his “star clients”, after his ploy of sending the pup to a shelter didn’t sit well with the public?

    I’m really not sorry to hear that all the emails and phone calls are affecting his business. I’m not saying he shouldn’t receive reasonable compensation for his work (for the medical procedures, not the boarding nonsense), and if he is smart enough to understand goodwill and public opinion, he will cut the carp and work out a fair settlement with Mr. Gomez.

  2. Lynne says:

    I’m siding with the pet owner. I don’t care what the “policy” is, a payment plan could be worked out.
    I had a dog that contracted parvo. She had had one of the series of shots but was exposed prior to the completion of the series. It is expensive to deal with.
    Not everyone has a credit card as some of you have mentioned. I don’t. I had to declare bankruptcy after my husband died from cancer and I was left with over $30k in medical bills. I work hard and pay my bills as I can and know that there are many, many people in this country who do the same. Some posters here seem to think this pet owner has options that he may not have. Living paycheck to paycheck severely limits what you can do.
    Do we have to live in a world where money is more important than a life?

  3. Robert Davis says:

    Hi Straybaby…I don’t take the comments in a negative way. Most of my cats were rescues…indoor/outdoor and I had used triazizide in the yard (from Lowes) and that always kept the fleas away….. but I tried some nemitodes in the yard without using any other chemical and the fleas that laid eggs over winter hatched…..and it was bad….If I used the chemicals like I normally did then i don’t believe I would have had the problem. In the end, I used chemicals to get rid of them. But I do understand why some do not want to use chemicals, whether for allergies or just prevention to chemical exposure…which would be the same reason I don’t use food with chemical preservatives…. :-)

  4. Robert Davis says:

    Lynne - you make the best point - Do we have to live in a world where money is more important than a life? I guess it all starts with one person at a time and supporting those who put life before profit :-)

  5. Don Earl says:

    Just curious. What treatment is involved for parvo that would cost $700 per day for 3 days?

    Are there super expensive medications involved?

    Is labor intensive therapy involved?

    Or did the doc just give the pup a cheap shot twice a day and put some food and water in its cage?

    I agree with those who say people should pay their bills. The part I find amazing is how few people say they believe they should receive a fair value for what they are charged.

    In the mean time, if a vet kills a pet through malpractice, the vet will have an army of attorneys insisting the pet is only worth $50 because that’s what the local shelter charges.

  6. Robert Davis says:

    Don - great point about the malpractice and worth of the pet…..

    I have one friend who lived in Lilburn, GA that has over $1,400 in medical bills for a German Shepherd that had Parvo….. this was back in the mid-90’s…..I’m not sure what is involved in the treatment though….[edit] I found this link… http://www.veterinarypartner.c.....p;SourceID

    It would be interesting to know.


  7. shibadiva says:

    IV, sub-Q, antibiotics, blood transfusions if necessary, to prevent dehydration and loss of proteins, regulate electrolytes, and control body temperature.

    An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  8. deej says:

    I feel very fortunate to have lived in small towns in the past where the emergency care was through your regular vet. It’s been a shock to move and find that emergency care must be paid for up front. We’ve been able to pay the emergency vet bills (2 cancer surgeries, plus some unexplained seizures) and actually our emergency vet is so phenomenal we use her first when we can, but in the past it would have been difficult.

    I wonder if vets could put a can out asking for extra from those who could afford it - I would drop 5 or 10 bucks into a fund for others. I guess that would maybe be just silly - and I suppose it would get taken advantage of.

    Ah well - life just saddens me sometimes.

    I am very sorry I let my earlier comment turn personal. No excuse.

  9. ellie says:

    I still haven’t seen anything indicating whether the owner would be willing to pay the bill under a payment plan.

    Is he absolutely refusing to pay another cent over the amount he already paid? Or is he simply asking for extra time?

    I can’t believe this is not addressed in the newspaper reportage. It seems to be the key point.

  10. Robert Davis says:

    Hi Deej,

    No problem on the comments - just shows we all care about little Pilot. And as the story evolves we learn more. It is good to share - I learn each time how to improve how I come across…because quite frankly you are right - I do sound like a know it all sometimes :-) I try not to….and my way is not always the best :-)



  11. Lynn says:

    Let’s face it, far too many reporters nowadays seem to be ignorant on how to REALLY report [i.e., get ALL the facts and follow up]. I’m reading more and more articles these days where pertinent facts go missing and [horror of horrors!] no one has done a REAL spell check.

    What’s the old saying? “Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.”

  12. Lynn says:

    I still thnk we’re not privy to all the facts regarding this matter. The point regarding whether or not the owner pushed for a payment plan is a valid question.

  13. Bridgett says:

    This really scares me. What if my dog eats something that gets caught in her stomach and has to have emergency surgery? That kind of surgery is expensive! Some friends of mine paid $3000 for it. I can’t pay that. So will my vet keep my dog if I can’t pay for this?

    I ask this because at every vets office I have ever been in there is always at little sign at the counter that reads, “Payment in full required at time of service”.

  14. shibadiva says:

    Bridgett, you may want to look into pet insurance as well as Care Credit as options if you know that coming up with that kind of cash will be difficult. Check around the Itchmo forums to read about other peoples’ experiences. That’s how I found out about Pet Card (Medi Card).

  15. Bridgett says:


    Thanks I will check into that!

  16. Robert Davis says:

    Hi Bridgett,

    Depending on how old your pet is, the rates for insurance can be reasonable and locked in for up to 8 years. I got Pet First Insurance. I have a link on my website (click my name). The insurance coverage is very good. You will certainly want to have a credit card or money saved up to pay the bill, but you will be reimbursed a good part of or most of the work done. For my Shiba-Inu, it is around $35 a month. Well worth it!
    Pet Insurance is different that human insurance in that you have to send in the forms and get reimbursed. For now, if you are worried about your dog swallowing something make sure no socks or toys or anything that could be swallowed is left around the floor or on tables. You may also want to use a child gate to keep your dog in one area of the house so you can keep an eye on her.
    One thing you might try to do is put a small amount of your monthly income into a savings account that you will not touch. This way it can be used for emergencies for the vet :-) $3,000 may seem like a lot not to save up….but overtime you will have it saved and be very happy you started an emergency savings plan.
    I think most people on here have found vets that will offer payment plans….obtain a good relationship with your vet and talk about those kind of worries with your doctor and ask him or her if this type of thing happens, will they let you do a payment plan or what options will they allow. Explain what you have done to prep for these just in case to show that you are thinking ahead and are a client in who is willing to pay, but large bills like that can have a negative impact on you.

    Just a few ideas thrown out there. I hope they help.


  17. ellie says:

    Robert, I’d like to second your idea of putting away money earmarked for vet expenses. I don’t have pet insurance, but I’ve been doing exactly that for years–$10 a week–and now I have I nice cushion for vet emergencies. I started just putting the money in a piggy bank, then opened a savings account. No matter how small the amount, as long as you make yourself put the money away regularly, it really starts to add up.

    I’d also like to second your comments about having a good relationship with your vet. That’s really the most important thing of all.

  18. Karen says:

    Most Vets in my area are extremely expensive. If you check prices for a well human visit to a doctor versus a well pet check-up, the Vet is the most expensive bill.

    This is just outrageous, I would hope the Vet. would reconsider the stand he/she has taken. I would think that the dog’s person would have a court case. How can a Vet, who is trained to help and save animals do something so inhumane? Where is your conscience.

    If an agreed amount was set then it’s PAID IN FULL, however, if there is truly a balance, work payments up.

  19. shibadiva says:

    Wonder what happened. Today is Tuesday and Pilot’s 10 days are up. Is he adopted by a star client? Is Gomez still being charged for boarding?

  20. Robert Davis says:

    Pilot is home with Mr. Gomez. I spoke with Arthur at PetFirst24 and he said Mr. Gomez came in and paid the balance.


  21. shibadiva says:

    Thanks for that research, Robert. It’s too bad the whole affair had to go on for so long. I hope Josh gets all the puppy shots for Pilot, and a credit card or something. And I still think the vet needs to look at himself in the mirror.

  22. Robert Davis says:

    Shibadiva - I agree :-) It’s def. a wake up to all of us to make sure we are prepared for the worst. I feel like I’ve been through a week of disaster preparedness ads from :-)

  23. Robert Davis says:

    The Kindess of Strangers

    Mr. Gomez was reunited with his dog Pilot today after a stranger, Carol Diamantis of Brookhaven (a few miles from Duluth) decided to pay the remaining balance.

    Carol has shown us all how strangers helping strangers is the greatest example of the human spirit. She didn’t know Mr. Gomez, but said she sure hoped someone would help her if she was found to be in the same position one day.

    Thank you Carol for your example to us all. Today she showed us how to walk in someone else’s shoes.

  24. shibadiva says:

    A wonderful resolution to the story. Good for Ms. Diamantis for coming forward and making the sun shine just a little brighter.

  25. Dog Released From Veterinarian After Good Samaritan Pays Owner’s Bill | Itchmo: News For Dogs & Cats says:

    […] week, we brought you the story of Josh Gomez and his dog, Pilot. Gomez had an unpaid bill at his veterinarian’s office and his dog was being “held […]

  26. A Noun (is a person place or thing) says:

    Threatening to have the dog euthanized or given away to someone else, when the owner was clearly making every effort to pay…horrible. Vile. Sickening. What goes around comes around, so I wonder what bill “Dr. Innocent” (a name that doesn’t fit) won’t be able to pay. Scum. Nothing but scum.

  27. Olivia Sarbu says:

    Can anybody help me?
    I am in the exact same situation with my dog, Billy (chihuahua). I am very desperate and don’t know what to do. My dog got hit by a car so I took him to the emergency room where the doctor told me the diagnostic was hernia and they had to perform emergency surgery on him otherwise he would die. I paid $800 before the surgery and agreed to pay the remaining balance of $1700 after. They did the surgery and my dog is fine but they won’t release him to me unless I pay the full amount I owe to them. I asked the doctor if I can make payments but she didnt accept. I cant afford to pay this amount in such a short period of time and they want to put him in a shelter. The doctor told me she’s only gonna hold him for a couple more days and I am afraid they’re gonna put him to sleep at the shelter. Can anybody help me in any way? I LOVE my dog very much and I would do anything to save him. Thank you.

  28. Melanie says:

    Now I too am in a similar situation. My dog which is half poodle and half chinese crested was attacked by a border collie. Had 15 or 16 puncture wounds to the neck with 3 holes in her trachea.
    I rushed her to the vet where they treated her and told me that I could come get her late in the afternoon after they had some time to make sure she was stable and had stopped all the bleeding. I went back at the prescribed hour and was presented with a bill for nearly $600 treatment. I have no problem with the amount of the bill considering the condition of the dog I think it is completely fair, however I am on a fixed income and can’t afford that much at one time. I paid the vet $150 and wrote checks for the balance that were to be deposited on the 3′rd of each month in the amount of $200 each. The vet office accepted these checks but then the doctor came in and made the comment that he can’t wait that long for the money and he should just take her medicine back and they had decided to just “keep her over night”. I am afraid by his comments and actions that he is going to hold my dog hostage. I have no problem with paying the bill in a timely manner according to what I can afford and $200 a month stretches me to the limits. Does anyone have any advice on what I should do now.. I tried to get a loan for the balance today but was refused because of my income. Anything that might be helpful would be appreciated

  29. the co-owner of spanky says:

    As I read many of your stories, my brother and I have found ourselves in the same situation. 3 weeks ago, our 11+ yr old cat Spanky had fallen ill. It was rather late at night when started getting worse, and so my brothers’ girlfriend took spanky to a 24 hour vet. where they initially found he had chronic kidney failure. the vet gave her a quote of between $500-600. However, upon hearing this, i did some research on this disease. I asked key questions, and was not told that it ws chronic, but acute kidney failure. There is a big differene between what was told to my brother, and what was told to me. One means that death is soon, the other means that Spanky the cat will live, but will likely have to be given medication and have a restricted diet for some time. This particular vet also told me a different quote of around $750. Since my brother is the primary care-taker of spanky, the vet has gone as far as calling his girlfriend at work to try and collect money for the bill, but didn’t tell her the exact amount. They are not willing to work with them on a payement plan. Nor are they willing to let spanky go home, all the while charging an additional $12 a day for boarding. My brother wants to pay this bill down, we want our cat back; however, it’s especially hard to do so because finances are tight, he’s been turned down for all the loans he’s applied for, and every 8 days spankys’ at the vet, the bill goes up $100. Last night I called the vet to get the total bill amount, and was given yet another price. This time it was $587. I don’t know about you guys, but something just isn’t right about the constant price change. When I asked what will happen to the cat if the bill wasn’t paid, the receptionist told me they may keep him at the vet to live out the rest of his days, or they may send him to the humane society. At this point in time, we are both at the ends of our rope as to what to do. If ANYONE has any advice as to what avenue we should take, please email me with your advice.

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