Legally pets are considered property. It’s relevant related to insurance claims or custody and other legal proceedings. It seems harsh to many, including myself, because in both instances it can lead to decisions that don’t seem to take into account that most people love their animals like family members.
Now a Texas court has changed the game. The Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth made a ruling in a case that gave dogs increased status above property. Dogster.com has the full story.
One day the worst happened for an unnamed couple in the Fort Worth area. Their dog, Avery, escaped from the yard. At first it seemed like the story would have a happy ending. A local shelter picked up Avery, so the couple was able to locate their dog as they searched for him. They didn’t have enough money on them to pay for his release, however, so they made an agreement that they’d return when they did.
A “hold for owner” sign was placed on Avery’s cage. Despite this, a shelter worker euthanized him. Avery’s owners came back for him soon after, but it was too late.
Reading this story punches me in the gut. I can’t even imagine what the couple must have gone through. I understand the dire situation of many overcrowded shelters, but they’re dealing in life and death. They ought to be more careful when they do what they must. If no one had ever come to claim Avery until it was too late I understand, but his owners had already been there. His cage was clearly marked. There’s no excuse for what happened.
Avery’s owners sued for damages. When their plea was rejected the first time around they took it to the Second Court of Appeals. That’s where Justice Lee Gabriel made the groundbreaking decision to give a pet more legal weight than mere property.
Prior cases support the ruling. In some instances of damaged or destroyed property, the property can be granted greater monetary value than its actual “sticker price” if a sentimental attachment can be proven – cherished photos or family heirlooms, for example.
“Dogs are unconditionally devoted to their owners,” stated the Court opinion. “Today, we interpret timeworn supreme court law in light of subsequent court law to acknowledge that the special value of ‘man’s best friend’ should be protected.”
In the immediate all this case does is award Avery’s owners more in damages than they’d traditionally get for the strict monetary value of their dog. They receive sentimental damage money as well. The implications are heartening, coming closer to establishing pets as family members in the court room.
Interestingly, many major pet organizations oppose it. The American Kennel Club and the American Veterinary Medical Association are among the names that came out against the ruling. What’s up, pet lovers? Shouldn’t we be glad that courts are acknowledging that pets are more than mere property?
The fear is that this case opens the door to other pricey lawsuits. Once I stop being outraged at the specific details of Avery’s case and step back for a second, I can see their point, albeit with a heavy heart. We live in such a sue-happy culture it’s not hard to believe how quickly the precedence set by the ruling could spiral out of control.
The case is expected to go to the Texas Supreme Court. In the meantime, we’re left to consider its implications, with a mix of joy for this victory for animals and worry that it might be a double-edged sword.