Does My Dog Have Rights? Why Do Courts Value Pets As Property?

We love our pets. They welcome us home with love and kisses, we consider them family, and Americans spend billions of dollars on them yearly – specifically $61 billion.

With so much love for our furry friends, why haven’t our laws kept up to speed with how we value our pets should something go wrong? It may surprise some people to hear this, but cats and dogs are considered simple property in the eyes of the law with no additional value; no different than a microwave or sofa.

With pets being considered members of the family by most, the law is starting to reflect these changes – yet very slowly.

In custody cases, we’re starting to see some judges talk about the best interests of Fido or Fluffy, and which home is better suited for the pet. We’re also seeing some states flirting with the idea of potentially allowing wrongful death cases brought by pet owners in certain circumstances.

With more and more people buying pet insurance in order to better-protect their fiends from injury, cancer, or other ailments, the natural next step may be to allow pet owners to pursue claims against veterinarians for poor treatment or negligence; essentially a medical malpractice claim.

Veterinarians have long-benefited from the emotional relationships we have with our animals, and many people believe that they should also be held responsible when their actions result in the further injury or death of their pet.

The problem is that courts consider pets as property. If we begin giving legal status to pets, though, where do we end up?

Where Do We Draw The Line?

If our animals are legally treated similar to humans, do we lose rights as pet owners? Do we suddenly have to go to court to determine if we can spay or neuter our pet?

The ultimate answer is that a dog or a cat is still an animal, certainly one to be protected and loved – but not a human with the ability to make decisions for itself.

I think we all should certainly be able to recover, through the court process, the emotional and sentimental value of any loss caused by another person’s negligence or actions, including when that involves a pet. I think most people would agree with this in principal, but by the letter of the law, you’re not likely to be compensated for emotional damages or sentimental value.

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