Max: a Holiday Tragedy Comes to the Court of Public Opinion

Our friends the Cohns have two little girls, Emma and Olivia, who are friends with Cassidy and Delaney.  The Cohns took Max, their family dog, to the local PetSmart just before Christmas to get him groomed for their holiday photos.  Somehow Max managed to escape from the grooming area, made it through a series of open doors and apparently tried to find his way home.  Tragically, he was hit by a car and killed before he made it.

I only met Max a few times, but from the first time I met him at one of Cassidy and Emma’s soccer games, I knew he was a cool dog.  He was one of those special dogs that you just know is good and loyal and gentle from the first minute you know him.  He was our friend, and we are saddened by his loss.  He was a member of the Cohns’ family.  The past few weeks have been really hard for Emma and Olivia.

When the Cohns contacted Petsmart to find out how Max managed to get away and what PetSmart intended to do about it, they found PetSmart’s answers very troubling:

“They said we looked up the value of your dog on the Internet, we want to give $600,” Keith Cohn told the local ABC station, who did a story on Max’s death.  He repeated that to me, and said he is having a hard time getting any substantive answers from PetSmart.  As a result, the Cohns have started a web page in memory of Max, and to speak out about this horrible incident.

max As is often the case, much of the best commentary and discussion can be found in the comments to the ABC story and the comments on the Cohns’ web site.  There are comments blaming and defending PetSmart.  There are comments by others who say they have had bad experiences at Petsmart and other groomers.  There are legal arguments, moral arguments and arguments just for the sake of arguing.  Amid all the hue and cry, however, remain two little girls who grieve for their dog.

Without question, this should not have happened.  The problem, of course, is that now that it has, what should be done about it?  Keith told me he wants PetSmart to enact and follow policies that will prevent this from happening to someone else.  He also wants PetSmart to pay monetary compensation, to his family and/or an animal shelter, to put a little bite in the policies and to ensure that such policies are followed.  PetSmart probably just wants all of this to go away and, perhaps, to avoid setting a precedent that might be be invoked by other aggrieved pet owners.

There will be no happy ending to this story.  Max is gone, and all the apologies and policies in the world won’t bring him back.  All that is left is to seek a solution that is acceptable to both parties.  Again, no one will walk away from this feeling good.  The trick will be to craft a resolution that makes it less bad.

For that to happen, the parties need to talk.  Not about legalities.  Not even about moralities.  About responsibility, reason and, ultimately, reconciliation.  Honor should be paid to Max’s memory and to the empty place his loss created in the Cohns’ house and in their hearts.  In my mind, it’s not about the money.  Money is simply, for better or worse, the stand-in for things taken that cannot be replaced. 

What is already an emotionally charged situation has been further complicated by a lack of direct, honest and sincere communication.  In my opinion, when PetSmart max2 offered the Cohns a paltry $600 for the loss of their family pet under such tragic, and preventable, circumstances, it almost guaranteed that the dispute, along with the emotions, would escalate.  Money is not going to bring Max back, but discounting his value after looking on the Internet for puppy prices is not my idea of reaching out.  One bad offer begets another, and the resolution gap begins to widen.

Unlike in days past, when an angry customer could only file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and hope, the Internet age allows anyone with a computer to bring their complaint to the court of public opinion.  Thomas Hawk did it when he had a bad experience with a camera store.  Jeff Jarvis took on Dell.  There have been others, and there will be more.

Now it may be PetSmart’s turn in the people’s court.    

I don’t know what ought to happen in this case.  Naturally, people will align along legal and moral grounds.  Perhaps that’s inevitable.  I just know that many people love their pets dearly and the loss of a pet is a tragic event that transcends legal and moral responsibility.

As an aside, while I am an animal rights supporter, I personally discount just about everything that originates from PETA, including the comments to the above pages that reference PETA.  In my opinion, PETA has become so radically bound to its philosophical position that it has lost the ability to convince the undecided.  I feel the same way about the political parties, but that’s a topic for another day.

There’s nothing anyone can do to bring Max back, but I believe the only chance to achieve any sort of closure and reconciliation is through open and honest communication.  Silence and posturing only amplify the problem when people need to hear from you.

People like two little girls who miss their dog.

Technorati Tags: