Dogs have rights, too. Just ask Crown Point lawyer Priscilla Herochik, whose practice literally went to the dogs in 2004.
Last May she represented Cabic, a German Shepherd mix who faced his demise but lived to bark another day thanks to this animal lover. “I took the case very seriously, although I must admit a lot of puns came to mind,” says Herochik, adding, “my history was always to look out for the underdog.”
Lake Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Arrendondo appointed Herochik guardian ad litem for Cabic after the dog sank his incisors into his Cedar Lake neighbor’s upper thigh one Sunday morning. The victim became concerned that the dog might have rabies, had his wound treated and repeated a neighborhood rumor that the dog was part wolf.
Big problem for Cabic.
Under Indiana law, any animal that is a wild animal or a cross breed and bites someone has to be euthanized so its brain can be examined, even if it has had rabies shots or is a house pet. Essentially, the Lake County Health Department wanted Cabic dead, not alive.
Enter Herochik, a licensed Indiana animal rehabber and an avowed animal lover who has worked with the Lake County Sheriff on animal control issues.
“It was a serious case for me because I feel animals do have some rights,” she says. “The kinship we have to animals is not recognized nearly enough by humanity. The similarities of human beings and other animals are far more vast than dissimilarities. We eat, we breathe, we have young, we love and care for them, we suffer when we’re injured. I’ve had experiences with animals that are just amazing.
“This dog deserved a chance for somebody to look out for him in court,” she says. “And since I’m a tort lawyer instead of a criminal lawyer, this case is the closest to a death penalty case I’ll ever have.”
What saved Cabic was that there was no clear evidence that he was a wolf dog. It was only hearsay. Herochik argued that all dogs came from wolves, so any dog that bites would have to be put down. Plus once the rabies virus gets to the dog’s saliva making it contagious, the dog only lives a week or two and Cabic was still healthy weeks after the bite.
She brought Cabic to court to prove it. “He didn’t testify. We didn’t have someone to interpret the bow wow.”
Herochik has a long history with animals. When she was young, her father moved the family from Chicago to DeMotte because he wanted to be a farmer.
“But we were so soft-hearted with animals, every animal we raised we couldn’t eat. We had a cow we wouldn’t eat, we had chickens we wouldn’t eat — but we ate the eggs. We had geese, we had ducks, we had a donkey that was mean. That’s where I learned to love animals. My dad would rehab any animal he found. We had raccoons, we had a skunk, we had pigeons.”
After high school, Herochik became a nurse and did public health and geriatric nursing until a back injury ended her bedside career.
It wasn’t until she was nearly 38 that she entered law school. And that was as a special student, since she
had not finished four years of college. Her nursing degree was an associate’s degree from Indiana University Northwest.
Herochik graduated from the Valparaiso University School of Law in 1985 with honors. Because of her nursing knowledge, she went to work with a medical malpractice firm. After three years, she jumped into the sole proprietor litigation arena and in 1998 she won three $1-million-plus medical malpractice verdicts.
“I’m uniquely in the position to understand what the doctors are going through being sued and what the patients are going through being injured,” she says.
“My philosophy is anyone can make a mistake but if you make a mistake, you need to accept responsibility. Doctors and nurses do not want to accept responsibility. Most doctors feel if they do something wrong they are ‘bad’ doctors. But in reality most malpractice is done by good doctors who experienced a careless moment.”
Like her father, Herochik and her husband live surrounded by rehabbed raccoons, squirrels, rabbits and skunks on 15 acres of woods and wetlands. “Last year I rehabbed 24 raccoons, three squirrels, 11 baby rabbits, one skunk and five opossums, only none of the possums made it.”
During her career, Herochik has gone full circle, from nurturing to being a lawyer and back to nurturing. Now she is going into semiretirement. “I want to do some authoring of books, books on the tort system and books on medical malpractice in Indiana,” she says. “I’m looking for a kinder, gentler life than being a trial attorney. Taking care of orphaned and injured animals is one of the kindler and gentler things I can do.”
Cabic surely appreciates it.