After 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.