What Are Dogs’ Lives Worth?

by Mary Haight on January 7, 2012

Dogs by law have been considered owned property, the value being whatever costdogs' value was initially paid. This concept was challenged by a Texas judge last November. The court of appeals agreed there is a sentimental value to a pet (Life With Dogs) after plaintiffs brought a case concerning their 8-year-old dog who got out of the yard, was caught and wrongly killed by Animal Control. The plaintiffs are not pursuing the case for any monetary compensation, but they wanted accountability on the books.  This decision will have major implications across many areas, from daycare to grooming, pet food to puppy mills and it will be really interesting to see how this plays out State by State.

The first case this year appears to be one in New York regarding a Brussels Griffon puppy, Umka, purchased for $1650 from Raising Rover Ltd in Manhattan. The attorney in this case is seeking damages for pain and suffering – the dog had a congenital defect in her hips and has bad knees causing great pain.  This is being cited as a landmark lawsuit that could redefine the legal status of pets.  There is already a puppy lemon law in New York, but Attorney Susan Chana Lask would test the law to go further.

What do you think? If the law is changed to reflect pain and suffering as an avenue for suit, would pet shops ultimately close down or be forced to convert to adopting shelter pets?  Some have said vets will start practicing defensive medicine and costs will rise – although I think that horse has left the barn =) Is there a clear and simple answer here?

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/catskill05 )

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13 comments
Mark
Mark

Hi. My Daughter's 3.5 lb Chihuahua was recently attacked and killed by the neighbors Rotweiller. Animal Control has impounded the Rotweiller, but we are struggling with how to seek compensation for damages. It is vary hard to put a value on this, because the loss is so much more... Does anyone have any experience with this? Any advice is apprecieated.

Mel
Mel

I read both of these stories Mary and wondered the same things. I think that these cases are the beginning of the change that is to come. Do I believe it will have an impact on puppy mills? I think eventually they will. The more people begin to realize and express and fight for their pet(s), the more people begin to realize the world is changing and will have to change with it. It's funny that Amy brought up changes for pet sitters and other pet professionals. I thought the same thing when I read the first story.

Amy@GoPetFriendly
Amy@GoPetFriendly

Being able to hold people accountable for their negligence is the way we improve processes in places that take custody of our pets. Will it mean changes for pet sitters, veterinarians, and boarding facilities? Sure. But is it right for someone to cause a pet's death and have no liability - I don't think so. Perhaps this will also have an impact on the punishments received by animal abusers - because that area of the law needs some reforms too!

Pamela
Pamela

I'm very interested in this legal process. It's only a matter of time before animals get similar rights to children, for example. But every legal decision has unintended consequences. Dr. V over at Pawcurious stated strongly why she was opposed to animals being seen as something other than property because of potential malpractice suits. While I think it's important people have the right to seek redress in the courts, I don't believe everything is a lawsuit. I think dogs won't be property for long. And that the change will have many benefits and many detriments. Like everything in life.

Thomas Aaron
Thomas Aaron

I think pain and suffering, and sentimental value, miss the point. Dogs are intelligent and emotional creatures and should be given humane consideration as such. Putting them down should be a last resort, and they should be considered more than just property with a monetary value. My dog is my best friend, and I could not even begin to put a price on her - and I got her for free.

Heidi Meinzer
Heidi Meinzer

I welcome using lemon laws and creative legal theories, particularly in the context of irresponsible breeders. Pain and suffering is one creative legal theory. Virginia has already nix'd that theory for negligence cases, but pain and suffering for intentional torts is still up in the air -- as is the question of whose pain and suffering -- the dog's? the human's? both? The Texas case used a "sentimental value" theory, which may have more of a chance in states like Virginia that still blatantly consider companion animals as personal property. Thanks for posting this! I'll be watching the New York case!

Rumpy
Rumpy

I think the potential is there for ending some of these puppy mills, so that gives me hope. The downside is we get into the discussion of whether a pure breed is of greater value than a mutt, and so on.

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