Making Headway in Animal Law

Posted by Stephanie Ulmer, Guest Blogger on January 26, 2011

Most of us reading this blog have always known that our companion animals mean much, much more to us than our iPod or other latest gadget, even though the initial investment to obtain either of them may have been the same. But the law has not been in lockstep with that thinking.

Traditionally, companion animals have been thought of as mere “property,” in the same way as your iPod or similar gadget. Hence, if something “happened” to that “property,” the “owner” would only be entitled to recover the fair market value or replacement value of that “property.” If someone breaks your iPod, then they may buy you a new one as a replacement. No real pain and suffering (yes, you may be upset about losing some content), but a new iPod would roughly make you whole again, right? But if you paid $55 to adopt your cat and he was negligently killed, and you were only entitled to recover your $55 “investment” under the traditional view of the law, I definitely think that that small payment would fail to make you whole. In fact, that “hole” in your life, left by the death of your cat, would be a great deal harder to fill. Under the traditional view of the law, no attention would be paid at all to the cat’s pain and suffering, or to your emotional distress at having lost a member of your family. Alas, it is with great effort that the Animal Legal Defense Fund has worked to change this view of the law and get more courts to see the “actual” value of our companion animals when someone or something has harmed them.

So it is a tremendous step in the right direction that the Los Angeles Times recently published an article recognizing the inroads made as of late in the field of animal law. The article initially discusses a Maryland case in which a couple filed suit against their local sheriff after their Labrador was shot by sheriff’s deputies on their property.  The article comments that “legal experts say such cases are on the rise as pets are coming to be viewed as more than property — at home and in court.” Brandi survived her injuries but is believed to have suffered permanent harm from her wounds. Brandi’s family is seeking damages for reckless endangerment and infliction of emotional distress. The case is still pending.

The article further cites the changes that have recently occurred in the field of domestic violence law regarding animals and those that seek their protection in potentially dangerous situations. The article notes that “Courts in some jurisdictions have begun to make a link between domestic violence and cruelty to animals… If someone goes to court to get a protective order, it includes not just the victim and her children, but her pets can be included." These are indeed positive steps. And other constructive changes that were mentioned can be found in the fields of estate planning, custody, divorce and service animal law. In fact, the article states, the trends involving animals have been so great several law schools now offer animal law programs, classes and seminars.

It is refreshing to see that others are recognizing that animal law “…is growing as people insist that pets are not property, but part of the family.”

8 thoughts on “Making Headway in Animal Law

  1. Eviep says:

    This article certainly hits home for me. A very important animal, a part of our family, was taken by mentally ill, hoarder neighbors with a history of these things and suspected drug involvement as well. I was not made aware of this until six months after he was taken.
    However, local law enforcement and Animal Control are ignoring the situation and these people entirely, even though they are continuing their activities, including collecting innocent animals.
    This has been and continues to devastate our family, and nothing is being done about it? It appears that in Nevada, hoarding is supported by local agencies as well, as one Director said to me personally they will never support any anti-hoarding legislation here. How can someone, part of a National organization, who is supposed to care for and protect animals have such a point of view. Is this why things are as they are? How many more animals and people are suffering?
    An innocent and helpless living, breathing member of our family that we love dearly has been taken and is being held captive, and everyone just expects us to forget about him like he’s just a potted plant or a bicycle? That is just not possible! No one should have to go through this pain and frustration for any amount of time. But it’s been almost two years for us now! Time for change…

  2. Karen says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article/blog. It is unfortunate that it has taken the law so long to catch up to modern society, and only being to consider animal rights as a serious aspect in today’s society. Animals, or at least in my life, animals are not property, they are apart of the family. My dog passed away almost two years ago but I always considered her my sister, and my cat is like my son. Animals mean a lot to people, and to others they are just something cute to look at but I don’t think some people care enough to support and protect all the animals of the world that are being taken advantage of, animals need legal support.

    I so dearly want to be an animal rights lawyer and I hope someday I can achieve that goal. Unfortunately, I don’t happen to know any animal rights lawyers.

  3. Thank you for sharing this! The law needs to catch up to current times! It is absurd that my fur children would be worth the amount I paid for them. They are worth much much more than any dollar amount.

  4. Sherri says:

    I’am so glad that people are finaly stepping up for animals & to change these laws .. My dogs are eveything to me like my own children… No way could they be replaced with a dollar amount… For that matter anything.

  5. Taho Hugh Birdwell says:

    Thanks again for sharing this information with us. My furry Licensed Companion Animal, Priscilla, my almost 5 year old feline would be more of a loss than anything I own. Hoping that these laws in our USA advance swiftly change. Since she saved my life when I went into Respiratory Arrest when she was only 1 year old by jumping on my chest, thus bringing my lungs back working again, how could I justify a price tag on that?

  6. AnnaFiona says:

    Thank you so much for all that you do. I realize that there is not a month that goes by that the books balance and so much of your efforts, time and finance are coming out of your own pockets. You have made it your life. I and animals all over feel deep gratitude. We all feel the intense frustration over the state of animal protection and rights, it is so far behind the sentiments of our society but without you we would be even farther behind. THANK YOU!!!

  7. Sylvia says:

    It’s about time that campanion pets are given the respect that they are entitled to. They are sentient beings and as such they too must be given protection.

  8. Deanna says:

    Im so sick of $$ at the expense of animals….cant believe anyone would take a life for $ :'(

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