Family, Not Property: How One Woman Is Using Her Dog’s Tragic Death to Raise Awareness About the Legal Status of Animals
It’s been exactly one year since Loni Edwards’ beloved dog Chloe died due to medical error while undergoing a veterinary procedure at a Blue Pearl veterinary hospital in Manhattan, and the passage of time hasn’t eased Edwards’ pain.
“I still tear up when I see pictures of her,” she says.
Chloe is known online as Chloe the Mini Frenchie. When she died, Chloe was four years old and had nearly 200,000 fans on Instagram. Photos of the pint-sized pup dressed in adorable costumes, or accompanying her humans on airplanes and to events, would garner thousands of likes and adoring comments on social media.
Edwards, a former lawyer who is founder of The Dog Agency — a talent management company for celebrity animal “influencers” like Tuna Melts My Heart, Crusoe the Celebrity Dachshund, and her own Chloe — says Chloe was indeed an important business partner.
“I would get in the door a lot more places because people wanted to meet her,” she says. Edwards believes that she closed some deals because of Chloe’s presence; because her dog brought so much joy into every room.
But Chloe’s most important role was as Edwards’ companion. Edwards says she “never went anywhere” without Chloe. She and Chloe were a pair, a team. They were family.
For the last year, Edwards has been seeking compensation from the veterinary clinic she alleges was responsible for Chloe’s death. The clinic admitted their fault in the incident, writing in a statement that “We are so very sorry for the loss of Chloe, a special dog who brought joy to thousands of people. This was a medical error that shouldn’t have happened.”
The hospital further promised in the statement to take “immediate steps to ensure nothing like this occurs ever again at one of our hospitals. We recognize that pets are part of our families, and we strive to give our patients the same care we would want our own pets to receive. As animal lovers, we are so saddened by Chloe’s death, and we are committed to working with the Edwards family and responding to their concerns.”
But despite these admissions of fault, Blue Pearl hasn’t done anything to move this matter towards resolution. And in the meantime, the Harvard Law School graduate has been using this time not just to grieve but also to raise awareness about animals’ legal status, and “push for change,” she says.
While Americans consider companion animals to be family, the law by and large does not recognize them as such. Rather, animals are considered to be “property” under the law, with more or less the same legal status as a chair or a table.
This is a major problem in many important aspects of the law, and means animals lack some fundamental legal protections. In cases involving an animal’s death or injury, like with Chloe, animals being considered property by the law means the “damages” one is eligible to receive is likely to be limited to the animal’s “replacement value” — in other words, the animal’s economic “worth,” or how much it would cost to purchase a comparable animal.
That’s changing slowly. A few states allow people to receive non-economic damages in some situations. And there are cases where people have been awarded funds for their emotional distress, as well as the “intrinsic value” of their companion animal. But generally, grieving families may be stunned to find out that they are only legally entitled to the cost of adopting another dog.
“They’re your family. Then the second something goes wrong they’re just ‘property,'” Edwards says. “The law is just so out of touch.”
That’s why Edwards has joined with the Animal Legal Defense Fund in calling for change, so that animals’ legal status matches their actual status — not as property, no different from a table or a chair, but as thinking, feeling beings who have intrinsic value, not just economic value, and who need and deserve that recognition in the law.
“Chloe was my best friend, business partner, and family. She was not replaceable property like the law sees her. And that needs to change,” Edwards says.
When Edwards talks about Chloe, she prefers to recall happy memories instead of the pain of loss. The nightly bedtime snuggles; the trips they took together. Their shared lives.
“We did everything together. She brought me so much joy,” Edwards says. “She was a perfect, perfect sweet pup.”
You can join the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s #notproperty campaign by going to aldf.org/iamnotproperty – downloading the printable sign and snapping a photo with your furry family member, explaining that as individuals they are so much more than property.
The sweeping Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 — an omnibus federal law passed approximately every five years, commonly known as the “farm bill” — included several important provisions, including some victories for animals.March 11, 2019 Animal Law Update