Cruella and Dante are dogs.
More precisely they are Dalmatians.
And since they are in my care they are pets.
I consider them pals of sorts.
That said, I don’t consider them property but they definitely aren’t people.
The day may be coming when my viewpoint is in the minority.
A small but growing number of judges and juries are awarding big money in punitive and emotional stress awards for the loss of pets.
At the same time a handful of cases have seen those convicted of animal abuse getting maximum fines and sentences that in some states is as much as 10 years in prison and up to $125,000 in fines. While still rare, some court decisions maximizing animal cruelty eclipse what is often imposed on a defendant guilty of child abuse.
The biggest award on record was handed down by a Maryland jury. Roger and Sandi Jenks were awarded $620,000 after deputies shot and killed a family pet Labrador that lunged at them while they were serving a civil warrant at the home for the couple’s son who no longer lived there.
Then there was $56,400 awarded to an Oregon couple whose dog was ran over and killed by a neighbor. The award included $50,000 in punitive damages, $6,000 in emotional suffering, and $400 for the state’s legal value of the dog.
A Southern California veterinarian lost a malpractice suit to the tune of $39,600 after he misdiagnosed a dog that had liver disease.
Pets have even been given court-appointed lawyers in some cases by judges in divorce battles involving who gets custody of dogs and cats. How a lawyer communicates with a pet to decide what they want is a good question but when billable hours are on the line who is an attorney to argue with a judge?
Why should any of this concern you especially if you’re not the type to become so attached to your pet that its accidental or deliberate death at the hands of another wouldn’t send you running to the nearest lawyer?
Well, the American Veterinarian Medical Association notes that Americans spend an average of $11,500 on a pet during its lifetime with half of that going for veterinarian bills.
That seems a little high, but it isn’t.
Adding up all the bills for two Dalmatians over the course of two years including food, flea medicine, dog houses, collars, toys, license fees, shots, vet bills, and the cost to adopt them from an animal rescue shelter including spay and neutering fees I came up with $2,100 over two years or the equivalent of $525 per dog per year. If a dog lives 12 years that’s $6,300 before any major veterinarian bill is tossed into the mix.
If the trend of courts allowing the awarding of punitive and emotional damages for the injury of a pet or a loss of their life continues, it won’t be long until everything from pet grooming to veterinary visits will be higher. Liability coverage will skyrocket and all pet owners will pay the price.
What is so ironic is virtually every state caps what a court can award in actual veterinarian expenses when it is proven in court a dog died through another person’s negligence. That $620,000 award for the dog’s death in Maryland was adjusted downward by a circuit court judge to $607,500. That’s because the couple had spent more than $7,500 in veterinarian costs trying to save the dog. Maryland law caps damages for veterinarian bills at $7,500. For punitive and emotional damages, the sky is the limit.
Spending close to $20,000 to try and save your dog’s life may strike some as absurd but underscores the real attachment many people have to their pets.
That said, should punitive and emotional damages even be allowed in such cases and – if so — should they rival what a court would award for the loss of a human spouse or child through someone else’s negligence?
There is a move nationally to pressure states to refer to those with pets as guardians instead of owners. It is not simply semantics. The term “guardian” elevates the rights of pets to being virtually on par with children.
Snicker, if you want but the day could come when pets are treated like humans in terms of how they are viewed by the courts.
The Egyptians worshipped cats. They also respected dogs. There are mummies of dogs that were buried in family tombs with goods for the afterlife. But there is no record of them suing when their dogs died.
Pets shouldn’t be considered property in the truest sense.
But at the same time they shouldn’t be elevated to human status.