Reading the fine print: Why a family still had to pay for a wellness plan after their dog died

FOX 35 News is investigating dog death payments.

A family grieving from the pain of losing their pup was recently hit with another kind of pain: they found out they had to continue paying for their dog’s health plan, even though he died.

Now, that family is warning others about the fine print of the policy.

Samson was part of Steve and Tammy Martin’s family for 9 years. 

"There wasn't a person he didn't love," Tammy recalled. "There wasn't an animal he didn't want to play with. He was just one of a kind."

 Steve says Samson used to sit on the driveway greeting passersby.

"All the neighbors were swing by, say hi, rub on him," Steve added. "He was a good boy."

The 97-pound boxer who acted like a lapdog got sick in May, and had to be euthanized. After that, the Martins called Banfield Pet Hospital to cancel the Optimum Wellness Plan they had for Sampson, but then they were hit with more bad news: They still had to continue payments for Samson's health plan.

"That would have been awful, right? The fact that you lost your best friend and then for seven more months to still have to make a payment for somebody that you lost seven months ago," Steve said.

The Optimum Wellness Plan is actually a contract. You pay a monthly or yearly premium that covers things like office visits, diagnostic testing, teeth cleaning, and more. In exchange for signing up for that program, you get discounts on other services 

The problem is, when you sign up for the contract, you’re in it for a full year, even if your dog dies. In fact, in the terms and conditions of a Wellness Plan Agreement, the language in the cancelation section specifically states the pet owner could be obligated to continue paying monthly fees or pay the total remaining Plan Year installments in full "If member cancels for any reason (including but not limited to death or loss of pet or transfer of ownership)."

Steve says he never saw that when he signed up for Samson’s Optimum Wellness Plan.

"They'd just have you sign that little electronic pad at the cash register. I'm sure they probably emailed us a contract, but that was nine years ago. I don't remember."

FOX 35 News reached out to Banfield, calling, emailing, and even showing up at one of their hospitals in person. We wanted to learn more about the Optimum Wellness Policy and to gain more insight into what happened with Samson. 

Banfield explained to FOX 35 News that if a client wants to cancel the policy, they can either pay the retail value of the services provided that year, minus the monthly premiums they've already paid for the year, or they can pay out the monthly premiums for the remainder of their contract. The customer owes whichever option between the two is cheaper.

"The last month cost us $2,000 for his medicine and the extra tests that they did. No big deal. We knew it was coming before we authorized it," Tammy said. "This, we didn't know was coming."

After Steve called them, Banfield discounted his balance. The company also said in a statement, "We send our deepest condolences to the Martin family over the loss of Samson. We understand how painful it is to lose a beloved pet, and it is always our aim to help families feel supported during this difficult time."

The Martins say they still feel this whole thing was handled indelicately. 

"The young man I talked to on the 800 number, when I when he told me, you know, you realize you're in a contract and either pay it or we'll just turn it over to a collection agency," Steve said. "There's just no empathy on the other end of the phone."

"It hurts," Tammy added. "It hurts a lot."

The Martin family says this isn’t about the money for them. They just want people signing up for this service to know what they’re getting into. 

FOX 35 News started looking into this story after the Martins emailed us for help. If you have a story you want us to check out, email us at Remember to include your name and phone number.