Pet Food Scare: Your Animals, Your Rights, and the Law

Posted on April 23, 2007

ALDF’s phones have been ringing off the hook with calls from people concerned about the health of their cats and dogs in the wake of the massive, ongoing Menu Foods recall. Our hearts go out to all of the families who have suffered the loss of a beloved animal due to tainted pet food. What can you do if you’ve been affected? And how is this tragedy an example of the desperate need for ALDF’s work in advancing the field of animal law in this country?

Practical Steps:
On its website, Menu Foods states that if their product is the cause of sickness or death, you can contact them directly and they will "take responsibility."  If you choose to contact Menu Foods or any of the other pet food manufacturers, we suggest that you consult independent legal counsel before signing any document or agreeing to any financial settlement.

On a practical level, save all veterinary bills and veterinary records that relate to the treatment of your companion animal as a result of the consumption of food you believe was tainted. If you have not thrown away the remainder of the can of tainted food, refrigerate and save it. If you have other cans of possibly tainted food, save them and put them in a safe place where they will not be opened or consumed mistakenly. If you still have the receipt from the purchase of the food that allegedly harmed your companion animal, save it as well.  

How the Law Values Animals:
Sadly, this case spotlights the serious disconnect between how we personally value animals and how the legal system does. Our laws and courts fail to provide damages that recognize the degree of injury a family has when its four-legged member has been injured or killed. In the eyes of the law, animals, even the dogs and cats we love, are nothing more than personal property.

The general rule is that if a dog or cat is killed, his owner can recover only the “market value,” which is what it would cost to replace the animal. Thus, if your ten-year-old mixed-breed dog is killed due to someone else’s negligence, his market value–and therefore your damages–may be limited to approximately $100, the fee to adopt another dog at the local humane society.  Some defendants will argue such a dog’s market value is even less. This harsh realization has dog and cat guardians up in arms.

There is no doubt that a strong emotional bond exists between humans and their animal companions. An animal’s life has a value that far exceeds the generally small amount of money that it cost to adopt him. It is time for the legal system to catch up with the rest of us and provide a more just and fair measure of damages when a companion animal is killed.

ALDF’s unique mission is to push the envelope in the courtrooms of America, until the law recognizes the true value and interests of animals. Please support our work to make sure that criminal animal abusers–including industries guilty of negligence–get more than a slap on the wrist from the legal system, and start taking seriously the true value of animals.

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