Pets as property or something more?

I have three dogs who I consider members of my family.  My dogs each have distinct personalities and quirks that separate them as individuals.  As a society, it seems that we have been moving away from the old notion of the animal as a ancillary to the family and most people who have pets consider them a part of the family.  For example, one of my dogs goes to daycare and I recently read a study that indicates that over half of pet owners share their bed with their pet.

Unfortunately, the law has not yet caught up with society’s changing views of the importance of animals in our lives.  In the eyes of the law, if your beloved pet is killed by negligence (with few exceptions) it is treated as a property loss.  The law views the loss of the pet in an automobile accident the same as if you had a laptop or other valuable which was damaged or destroyed.  You are only entitled to the fair market value for the replacement cost of the animal, no more no less.  The law does not recognize the emotional ties between owner and animal and the emotional distress and disruption caused by such a loss.  Rather, the law treats animals as property that can be replaced not as an individual whose loss likely has a much larger impact than that of an inanimate object.

There are a few attorneys out there who have been working hard in Washington state to change the law. Courts have slowly began to recognize that companion animals and pets today have a very different value than when the laws regarding compensation were originally enacted.  Some Superior Courts have even awarded owner’s damages for emotional distress in which one owner’s negligence directly contributed to the death of a beloved pet.  I hope that this progress continues and the courts begin to recognize that pets are more than just a piece of property.

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