law & politics
News: Guest Posts
Key decision but not a precedent
We all share this nightmare: somehow, our beloved dog gets out of the house, runs into the street…and is tragically hit by a car. Now imagine that awful scenario being the result of someone else’s negligence. That’s what happened to a Colorado family. Last summer, Robin Lohre’s dog Ruthie was killed after being hit by a car. Ruthie escaped the family’s home while a cleaning service was working in the home and Robin had left to run an errand. To make matters worse, the cleaning service employee knew it happened, found the dog and brought her inside, laid her underneath the dining table, and left—without ever calling Robin or a vet, or even leaving a note.
Robin and her seven-year-old daughter Imogene were devastated by the loss of Ruthie.
Lohre sued Posh Maids, the cleaning service, for negligence and emotional distress. Colorado, like so many other states, considers pets to be property. Usually, when someone negligently damages your property—say, your car—you can sue only for the replacement cost. However, in recent years, attorneys across the country have been making inroads, expanding the animal law specialty and pushing the envelope with regard to how our legal system looks at pets. When someone suffers a loss like the Lohre’s, suits for emotional distress seek to address the true wrong suffered—the loss of the human-canine bond and companionship—even if the state’s statutes don’t specifically provide for those damages.
In Lohre’s case, the defendant never responded to the lawsuit, so a default judgment for the full claim of $65,000 plus interest was entered. While on the surface this is a great financial result for the Lohre and her attorney, it’s too soon to celebrate. First, since the case didn’t go to trial and a judge didn’t render a decision, the case doesn’t provide the sort of legal precedent that others later can use for their own cases. Second, we lawyers have a saying: judgments are easy to get but hard to collect. Given that the defendant was a small business owner who didn’t hire an attorney to respond to the suit, my guess is that she won’t pay, and may even file bankruptcy to avoid payment.
Still, I see the case as a victory for this most basic reason: it publicizes the idea that our pets are more than simple property. They are our invaluable companions, and the law should treat them as such. The case is also a heads up to all businesses that send employees into peoples’ homes to provide a service: be as mindful of the family pet as you would a human child.
Here’s ABC’s full report:video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player
News: Guest Posts
Confusing rules about signage make finding a lost dog more difficult
How long would you look for your dog if he went missing? A week? A month?
Pat Panek of Littleton, Mass., has been searching for Bridgett, her lost Husky, for nearly four months. Thanks to tips from the public, she is not giving up—but her “lost dog” posters are causing conflict. Panek says some of the signs have been torn down almost as soon as they go up, and town laws are confusing regarding public signage.
“Every one of the last bunch was down in under three days,” she said last week via e-mail. “It’s discouraging. I believe that had I not been hampered in my posting, Bridgett would have been home long ago.”
Panek’s persistence isn’t just wishful thinking. She received phone calls reporting Bridgett sightings throughout the winter. Springtime weather is here, and the calls continue: The latest information puts Bridgett in a conservation area near the town of Acton.
It’s not certain who, exactly, is tearing down the signs. One Littleton citizen complained that a poster and sandwich board were obstructing vision in the town common; those signs were removed by police. Panek says she was then instructed to apply for a signage permit with the town, but was denied because she’s “not a town organization.
She’s struggled with town officials in nearby Acton, too. Panek told a Boston CBS affiliate that some local business owners have declined to post her flyers due to worries about fines. She said that she dates her posters to keep them from staying up too long, but they often are torn down quickly anyway, possibly by residents who just don’t like them.
The director of Acton’s Planning Department, which enforces signage laws, told the station that his team hasn’t removed signs—he said Panek is allowed to post them as long as she removes them in a timely manner. One of the town’s selectmen admitted that Acton’s laws on the matter are often confusing and contradictory, and that changes are underway.
Panek doesn’t have much time to wait, however. Bridgett, a seven-year-old rescue, tunneled out of Panek’s backyard on Nov. 27, 2011. She’s been spotted dozens of times since then, and has apparently survived the winter. Bridgett’s background is part of what’s kept her from being caught: She spent the first six years of her life in a puppy mill. After living in a crate for most of her life, getting her into a trap is nearly impossible.
Despite the poster problems, Panek says that the community’s reaction has been “fabulous.” Granite State Dog Recovery, a volunteer group from New Hampshire, offered its services to Panek, giving advice and lending her Hav-A-Heart traps and a trail camera. She has a Facebook page and hands out flyers, brochures and business cards looking for information on Bridgett. The calls keep coming.
“I know she is out there,” Panek says. “I believe she will come home soon. But if I am wrong, I don’t know when that cut-off”—the end of the search—“comes. I just know it’s not now.”
News: Guest Posts
Pups in presidential politics
Is there anyone in America who is not aware that Mitt Romney put his Irish Setter, Seamus, in a crate lashed to the roof of the family car for an eight-hour drive to Ontario in the 1980s? And that when the results of an unscheduled bathroom break trickled down the car windows, Mitt stopped at a gas station and efficiently hosed down the dog, the crate and the car and carried on?
Anyone still in the dark about this?
That incident has spawned criticism from dog lovers, skits and jokes on late night television, a “super pack” called Dogs Against Romney with its charmingly pointed “I Ride Inside” bumpersticker, and countless op eds by Gail Collins, for which we gave The New York Times columnist our first-ever “Dogging the Hound Award.”
As Amy Davidson recently pointed out in The New Yorker (which gives cover play this week to Romney’s crucible but with opponent Rick Santorum on the roof), dogs have always been part of presidential politics. So this is no great exception. But presidents and candidates for that office generally attempt to use their good relations with dogs as a selling point.
I wonder: If you liked most everything about Romney and he was your candidate, would the Seamus story keep you from voting for him?
News: Guest Posts
Budget cut could mean shelter animals lose life-saving time
As citizens of the Golden State know, the California budget takes a tortuous route to passage—even in the best of times. These aren’t those times, especially for animal partisans, since Governor Jerry Brown has recommended repeal of the state’s landmark shelter animal protection law, known as the Hayden Bill.
Repeal is sought to save a theoretical $23 million in state payments to local shelters, intended to reimburse them for expenses associated with not-killing impounded pets for about six days. That so-called “Hayden-hold” period is crucial to reuniting strays with their families, and mobilizing the state’s burgeoning rescue network to promote the adoption alternative. Hayden was enacted to convert California’s facilities from disposal sites to life-saving shelters in a much truer sense of the term.
While success is as-yet incomplete, the state has made remarkable progress in stemming the tragic killing of animals whose worst sins are generally that they chose the wrong people. Shelter pets have even achieved a certain cachet among dog park regulars. Much remains to be done, and Hayden is a critical part of the infrastructure of progress.
Repeal would destabilize the system and threaten those gains. Worse—it is utterly unnecessary, as the savings are easily otherwise achievable. The term “theoretical” savings was used above because the State hasn’t actually reimbursed those local expenses since 2009, when repayments were “suspended.” Thus the Hayden-hold has not cost the state as much as a dog biscuit since that time—and it needn’t in fiscal 2012–13, when suspension is again an option.
Kindly consider doing two things in support of Hayden:
1. The first hearing on this matter of so-called state mandates (reimbursements), including Hayden, is Tuesday, March 13, at 1:30 p.m. at the Capitol in Sacramento, Room 447.
As of this writing, the specific agenda has not been set, but we know who the sub-committee members are. Email them, fax and call them: they need to know the consequences of their actions on this issue, both canine and electoral! (Pols are nearly as famous for family portraits that include Fido as they are for kissing babies. THIS is their opportunity to reimburse Fido for his dedicated service.) You'll find contact information for all subcommittee members in the box below. Note how similar the email and other addresses are—mass-produce and send ‘em onward!
2. Attend the Capitol Lawn Rally planned for that day, starting at high noon. The scheudule is as follows:
11:45 - Arrive on North Steps of Capitol
Signs will be provided. Well-behaved, leashed dogs are allowed on Capitol grounds, but not inside the Capitol building, so please keep that in mind for this combination outdoor/indoor event. As always, bring those disposal bags. See updates here.
News: Guest Posts
A bill that would make it a felony to attend a dog or other animal fighting contest in Indiana is gaining support with lawmakers in the Hoosier State.
The measure, introduced last November by State Senator Brent Steele, increases the penalty for “spectators” at animal fights from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class D felony. It also carries a punishment of up to three years in prison.
Steele’s bill passed the Senate Committee on Corrections, Criminal, and Civil Matters on January 10 by a 5-4 vote. The full senate is expected to vote on the measure next week.
“This legislation is intended to cut off spectatorship for animal fights in our state.” Steele said in a written statement after the bill made it out of committee. “We need to toughen our laws to deter those who will often not only watch but also pay to watch this illegal and shameful activity.
“Animal fighting is not a victimless crime,” the Republican lawmaker added. “Dogs and other pets are often killed.”
The bill still has to win approval in the state’s House of Representatives and garner the governor’s signature before it becomes law.
Animal rights advocates hail the measure and are cautiously optimistic it will be approved.
“We absolutely support this measure,” said Anne Sterling, Indiana’s state director for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). “We’ve been working on this issue for a long time. This is the fifth time this bill has been introduced in our state, and this is the first time it’s gotten this far.”
Animal fighting is a serious issue in Indiana, Sterling said. In the past two years, Indiana HSUS officials have assisted in raids that shut down two dogfighting and one cockfighting contests. “We helped recover more than 400 animals, including 190 cockfighting birds” Sterling said.
Last July, HSUS officials assisted with a dogfighting raid in Gary, Indiana, that led to four arrests and the seizure of 20 dogs.
“This (proposed) bill is something that’s really important to the folks who are trying to stop animal fighting in our state,” said Sterling, who has a Pit Bull that was rescued during a 2009 dogfighting raid.
According to the HSUS, 25 other states have similar laws that make it a felony to be a spectator at a dogfighting contest. In other states, it’s a misdemeanor to attend those “barbaric” brawls.
Why target the spectators at these fights?
They’re the ones who gamble on this bloody sport, Sterling said. “These fights make money for organizers; that’s why they continue. There are also a lot of people attending these fights who are waiting to go on next.”
The HSUS said dogfighting is a class D felony in every state. The animal rights group also ranked the dogfighting laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
New Jersey has the toughest dogfighting laws, the HSUS said. Montana has the weakest. It’s still legal to be a spectator at a dogfighting contest in Montana, the HSUS said.
More information about Indiana’s proposed animal fighting legislation is available on the state’s General Assembly web site: http://www.in.gov/apps/lsa/session/billwatch/billinfo?year=2012&session=1&request=getBill&docno=0011&doctype=SB
News: JoAnna Lou
U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on drug sniffing dog
In the Bark blog, we've written a lot about the amazing canine nose. Their olfactory skills make them invaluable partners. But how we use the canine nose has become a controversial topic. Is it legal for police dogs to search for drugs outside of a house without a warrant? Or does it violate the Fourth Amendment protection against illegal search and seizure?
This issue came to the forefront after Franky, a talented police dog, detected marijuana growing inside of a Miami-area house from the other side of a closed door.
Florida's highest state court ruled that it crossed the constitutional line, but the Florida attorney general wants the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse that ruling. The Supreme Court has approved drug dog sniffs in several other major cases, including drugs detected during routine traffic stops and airport luggage. But this case is more tricky because it involves a private residence.
Whichever way the Court rules, one thing is certain. Franky, the Chocolate Labrador at the center of the controversy, is an amazing dog. In Franky's seven-year career with the police department, the eight-year-old dog is responsible for the seizure of more than 2.5 tons of marijuana and $4.9 million in drug-contaminated money.
News: JoAnna Lou
An Iowa breed ban was found to be in violation of the ADA
I'm not a fan of breed bans. They make a sweeping generalization about a whole group of dogs, while trying to solve a problem without getting to the root of the problem—irresponsible pet ownership. There are so many great dogs that get hurt by this type of legislation.
Snickers is a great example of how a breed ban unfairly discriminates against responsible dog lovers. James Sak, a disabled retired police officer, has relied on his Pit Bull mix, Snickers, since a stroke confined him to a wheelchair in 2008. The University of Illinois Medical Center paired the two together to help Sak walk, balance, and call for help in an emergency.
In November, Sak moved to Aurelia, Iowa to help care for his wife's elderly mother. Within a few days, Sak was ordered to re-home Snickers due to an ordinance that bans Pit Bulls in Aurelia.
Sak claimed that the ban violated the Americans With Disabilities Act and last week a federal judge agreed. Thankfully, an injunction was filed so that Snickers could live with James.
You can't judge a whole group of dogs based on a few exceptions. Hopefully Snickers' story will help show that there are many great Pit Bulls in the world.
News: JoAnna Lou
Human ashes can continue to be buried in pet cemeteries
Many animal lovers want their final resting place to be next to their beloved pets. In New York, over 500 people's ashes have been buried at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in its 115-year history. Earlier this year, the practice was threatened when the state's Division of Cemeteries banned the burial of human ashes in pet cemeteries. There was a public outcry, especially among those who had already purchased plots for this purpose.
Well there's finally good news. The Division of Cemeteries announced this month that they will back off the burial ban.
The cemetery owners believe that a potential lawsuit being developed by Taylor York was the ultimate reason that the Division decided to change their mind.
York's uncle buried his wife, bunny, and two Maltese dogs at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery. When he passed away in April, the family was unable to bury him with his wife and furry kids due to the new ban. This prompted York to prepare a lawsuit against the state of New York.
I'm glad to hear that the ban was lifted. Although I don't have plans to be buried with my pets, I feel adamant that this should be an option for animal lovers.
News: Guest Posts
It certainly looks that way. When Senator Edward Kennedy, who is fighting a malignant brain tumor, returned to his Capitol Hill office today, he was accompanied by his wife Victoria and their two Portuguese Water Dogs. I figured dogs in the halls of Congress was news but it appears I'm simply out of the loop; Sunny and Splash are practically lobbyists.
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