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Massachusetts’ highest court is taking up a tricky legal case that could impact any pet owner.

The Supreme Judicial Court is considering whether or not failing to put down a dying pet should be a crime.

The case centers around a woman from Weymouth and her 14-year-old dog, Tipper. Mary Ann Russo said she took her dog to an animal hospital twice back in 2020 after discovering he had a large tumor, but instead of following a veterinarian’s recommendation to euthanize the dog, she took him home.

“I said I would handle it, but I want my Tipper to be home for a little bit, just to enjoy life for a little bit,” Russo said. “I wanted him to at least have his loving family around him, not laying on a cold table among strangers.”

Russo said the dog was recovering at home, but the veterinarian filed a complaint with the Animal Rescue League. When officers then came to check on the dog at home, they said he was barely breathing.

They ultimately obtained a warrant to euthanize the dog.

“We were getting his leg strong, and then they just took him and euthanized him. It was horrible,” Russo said.

Prosecutors said Tipper was in pain beyond control, arguing that Russo knowingly allowed it to continue. They also said Russo did not take the proper steps to alleviate the pain.

“While death is inevitable for all living creatures, suffering and pain is not,” Assistant District Attorney Tracey Cusick told the court at a hearing this week.

After the criminal complaint was thrown out by a lower court and an appeals court, it is now up to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to decide if the case will go to trial. The justices have to decide if Russo willfully subjected her dog to unnecessary suffering by not putting him down.

“Don’t you need us to interpret ‘willful’ that she has to intend the suffering as the statute says?” Justice Scott Kafker asked during the hearing.

The court has taken the case under advisement. It is unclear when it will issue a ruling. If it decides the case can go to trial, Massachusetts would become the first state in the nation where failing to euthanize a terminally ill pet constitutes animal cruelty.

Russo could face jail time if that happens, but she is hopeful the court will see she is an animal lover, not an abuser.

“I know I’m doing the correct thing for Tipper and all of the animals like him, because I should’ve been notified. I should’ve had a say in this whole process,” Russo said.

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