When Your Mother-in-Law Does You a “Favor”


My friend Jill’s mother-in-law ran over her dog. Not on purpose. She accidentally backed up her sport utility vehicle and crushed the dog’s pelvis. While pet-sitting. As a favor.

The question: Who should pay for the dog’s surgery and medical expenses?

After the accident, Jill got the news from her in-laws while on vacation at Yosemite National Park, learning: “The dog could be saved by an animal surgeon for a hefty price.”

Four months of expensive treatment later—after an operation, bed rest, medication and physical therapy—the dog is fine.

Jill writes: “On one hand, it was our decision to pursue the expensive route rather than let the dog die. On the other hand, they RAN OVER OUR DOG! They caused the  hardship, the heartache, the need for the poor dog to undergo such torture, and for us to endure such an expense. Should they have compensated us fully?”

Poor dog, enduring months of pain because of a careless accident! But “accident” is the key here. An experienced dog sitter—or a kennel, if Jill had boarded the dog—should have safeguards in place to prevent a mishap like this. If the dog got hurt while in the care of a professional, Jill would be entitled to compensation.

But the rules are different for family (and friends, by the way). If a relative offers to watch your dog as a favor, there’s a tacit understanding between the two of you: You expect she’s offering out of goodwill and wants no payment beyond gratitude. In return, she expects you to assume the risk of something going awry; after all, you knew you weren’t hiring a professional.

That said, I understand how frustrating the situation must be. Maybe it would make Jill feel better to clear the air. If so, Jill could tell her mother-in-law, “I know you aren’t obligated, but paying for the surgery after you crushed my pet’s pelvis under your SUV would have been a stand-up thing to do. You had the opportunity to set a good example for your grandchildren by showing them how an adult takes responsibility for a mistake.”

What do you think? Who should pay? And what would you say to your mother-in-law if she ran over your dog?