Texas Courts increase dogs’ value under the law

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Dog CourtAfter 120 years of unchanging case law, the 2nd District Texas Court of Appeals finally gave our best friends a little more credit. Until this month, the only value given to a dog under the law was their “market value.” As you can imagine, market value may be a few dollars if you are lucky. As much as a loveable pooch may mean to a certain person, his value under the law was pretty much nothing. We love our dogs and would never want to sell them, but let face it, they don’t command a hefty price on the open market. So, unless your dog was highly trained for a specific job, giving it special value, the law said your dog was no different than an old shoe.

So, for the last 120 years, if someone maliciously killed your dog, if your dog died as result of negligence while boarding, or any other horrendous scenario, you really had no recourse. As much as your dog may have meant to you, under the law, that importance had no meaning and no value.

But in Texas, that is no longer true. Dogs have finally moved up in legal standing from just “personal property” with no additional value, to personal property with recognized intrinsic or sentimental value. It took 120 years, but the law finally figured out that people value their dogs more than your average inanimate household item. Dogs now are in the same category as irreplaceable family pictures, heirlooms, and other personal property with sentimental value.

What I find a little disheartening is that the court was able to make this leap because personal property with sentimental value had already achieved this higher status. Courts had already long recognized that people could recover “sentimental damages” for all types of personal property, but dogs had not yet officially been promoted.

This is hard to believe, especially since such large numbers of people consider pets as much a member of their families as the human members. So many, that pets are thankfully now included in disaster evacuation plans in Texas. This occurred because so many people refused to leave their pets to die, at their own mortal peril. To save human lives, disaster response plans now allow people to save their pets.

The courts, however, still have not made the same leap. Pets are still in the same category as non-living objects. You cannot recover damages for “pain and suffering” for the loss of your pet. If someone kills your dog, pain and suffering is the only thing you are going to feel–followed by insane rage and frustration when you don’t feel like the law takes that into account. I hope it doesn’t take another 120 years for the courts to realize that humans and dogs have an extraordinary emotional connection that far exceeds any inanimate object.

Next step—to elevate dogs above non-living objects in the eyes of the law, and to recognize the pain and suffering caused by their loss.

UPDATE:  This case was overturned by the Texas Supreme Court.  Dogs are back to just a possession.

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5 Responses

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  1. This is a bit of a slippery slope. This has been what AR groups have been trying to do for years. Though this looks good on the surface it is once step closer to all animal ownership being outlawed. Though I am all for animals being treated kindly and fairly this is also going to open the door to MANY frivolous law suits against boarding facilities, veterinarians and even training facilities. The point of this is to raise animals to the point of being sentient beings and there for ownership is illegal.

  2. I can see your point on this opening the door to frivolous law suits, however I am not seeing the connection to outlawing all pet ownership. How are you making this leap?

    I think while you are correct in this opening the door to some people filing frivolous lawsuits and thus increasing liability insurance for veterinarians and boarding facilities, I think it is better to err on the side of holding the truly negligent people liable for their actions. On the flip side, when such frivolous actions are filed, the courts will start to develop case law to control that. However, I do not think there will be as many frivolous lawsuits as you will imagine, because even with this change in the law the amount of reward will not be nearly high enough to tempt lawsuit hungry plaintiff’s attorneys to take them on contingent fee agreements. People will much more likely have to pay an hourly rate to file a lawsuit, which will automatically weed out a great number of frivolous claims and leave people who simply want to see some justice done for negligent and malicious acts against their pets.

  3. I hope you are right. . . I worked in Veterinary Hospitals for over 17+ years and I could see how this could become a problem ( like it is in Human hospitals) REALLY quickly.

    The leap I make is one that has been made many times by people that own or breed dogs. The goal of 90% of AR groups is not to make sure pets are taken care of, it is to stop the breeding of all animals every where. One regulation and one law at a time. The higher you elevate the more likely you can get a judge to see there way of thinking.

    This can also lead to frivolous law suits on anything animal. It could even back fire and extend back to animal shelters who place dogs with any problem.

    Texas has some of the strictest animal right laws on the book yet every year they want more and more regulation. More regulation does not in fact grant better animal rites. MOST of the problem is ZERO enforcement of many of the laws that are already on the books. The point I am getting to it that NOTHING but total out law of breeding will ever be enough. Once this happens it will then be pet ownership.

    1. Contracts for service now need a liquidated damage clause setting an amount for a pet’s death resulting from the service provider’s negligence.

  4. I do totally see your concern. And to make you feel better, it is likely that the Texas Supreme Court will overrule this court in the future for exactly your reasons. I just think that the fear of frivolous law suits leave blatant abusers in the clear.

    I totally agree with you about the ZERO enforcement though. You can see my previous post where I rail against Texas HB1451. Adding more laws doesn’t mean better protection when nobody enforces them. I do think, though, that animals DO deserve higher standing under the law than my coffee table. It’s a hard balance. It would be nice if government was more efficient and narrow in their law making to actually handle the problems without create more in the process.

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