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Patterson v. Rough Road Rescue, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fifth Division

July 25, 2017

JAMIE F. PATTERSON, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
ROUGH ROAD RESCUE, INC., STEVE SVEHLA and LINDA SVEHLA, Defendants-Appellants.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Perry County Honorable Craig D. Brewer

          LAWRENCE E. MOONEY, JUDGE

         "Every dog must have his day."[1] And today is Mack's day.[2]

         Mack is a three-year old dog, believed to be a boxer-mastiff mix. He was rescued by Rough Road Rescue, an animal-rescue organization located in Perry County, Missouri. Rough Road Rescue was founded by Steve Svehla and his wife, Linda Svehla, with the purpose of caring for stray animals and placing them with good families. The rescue group placed over one hundred animals with adoptive families since its inception in 2013. Jamie Patterson adopted Mack from the rescue in early 2015. The rescue group, however, reclaimed Mack after he bolted and escaped from the Patterson yard. The group asserted that Ms. Patterson violated the adoption contract, and that they had the right to retake Mack. Ms. Patterson disagreed. And so the parties went to trial to resolve this dispute.

         The Adoption

         In 2014, Ms. Patterson stopped at the rescue facility with her son, so that he could donate some blankets he had made for the dogs housed at the rescue. While there, they met Mack, and instantly fell in love with him.

         Ms. Patterson expressed an interest in adopting Mack. The rescue group informed her that they had a lengthy process for adoption that included several visits at the rescue facility, and then if those went well, a home visit. The rescue group also performs background and reference checks on the potential adoptive family. The only other matter the group mentioned to Ms. Patterson was that Mack would have to be neutered. Ms. Patterson believed that if she was approved for adoption, she would own Mack. And so she began the adoption process.

         Ms. Patterson made two further visits to the rescue facility. The first time she and her son visited, to once again see Mack, and to ask Mr. Svehla a little more about Mack's personality. The second time, Ms. Patterson brought her other dog out to meet Mack, to see if the two dogs would get along.

         The Svehlas brought Mack to the Patterson home for a visit on January 24, 2015. The visit went very well. Mack was very happy, and the Pattersons were very happy. The visit went so well, in fact, that the Svehlas decided to leave Mack and to complete the adoption that day. This came as a surprise to Ms. Patterson. Based on what the rescue group had told her, she expected this visit to be just a home visit and that the adoption would take place at some later date if the home visit went well.

         To complete the adoption process, Ms. Patterson paid a $40 adoption fee and a $15 microchip fee. She also signed a document entitled "Animal Adoption Contract And Spay/Neuter Agreement." Ms. Patterson testified that the rescue group never told her that she would be required to sign anything before getting Mack. During the home visit, while Ms. Patterson and her children played with Mack, Mr. Svehla and Ms. Patterson's husband spoke about erecting a fence, and Mr. Svehla said that he would add that provision into the contract. Other than a fence, Mr. Svehla and Mr. Patterson did not talk about any other contractual terms. According to Ms. Patterson, the Svehlas neither read through the document with her before she signed it, nor told her what was in the document, other than reemphasizing the need to neuter Mack. Most particularly, the Svehlas did not review with Ms. Patterson the paragraph stating that Mack could be reclaimed by the rescue group if the Pattersons did not comply with the adoption contract. The process was so rushed that Ms. Patterson did not get a copy of the document she signed.

         With the adoption process completed and Mack in her possession, Ms. Patterson believed that she owned Mack and that she had gained all rights to the dog. Ms. Patterson believed that the rescue group's use of the word "adoption" meant full ownership, and nothing less. Ms. Patterson did not know that the rescue group would claim the authority to take Mack away from her. Had she known this, Ms. Patterson would not have signed the contract. Ms. Patterson only became aware of the provision some eleven months after adopting Mack, when the rescue group reclaimed Mack and refused to give him back to the Patterson family.

         The Adoption Contract

         The adoption contract used by the rescue group states in pertinent part that the adopter "acknowledge[s] receiving custody of the above described animal from ROUGH ROAD RESCUE, INC., " and that the adopter "agree[s] to abide by the following conditions...."[3] The contract then lists ten enumerated conditions, the most relevant of which are:

1. I will have my adopted pet spayed/neutered within 60 days of the spay/neuter date above. After which, I will provide proof of Sterilization to Rough Road Rescue, Inc. Missouri Law requires the spaying or neutering of animals adopted from this and similar facilities.
3. I will provide humane care, giving the animal proper food, water, shelter, exercise and love. I will provide competent veterinary care in case of illness and injury. I will have my pet inoculated ...

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