The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that guardians cannot sue for emotional damages when a pet’s death is the fault of someone else. The case concerned a challenge to the law by a family whose dog Avery had been euthanized in error by a shelter. A worker had tagged the dog with instructions not to euthanize her because the family was coming back with the money necessary to release her, but somehow those instructions were not followed.
Though the written opinion of the court acknowledged the human-animal bond, it stated that it is not worthy of financial compensation. Justice Don Willet wrote that although figuring out what a pet means to a family is an emotional consideration, that’s a separate issue from the legal determination of the financial value of a pet. That is why people can receive financial compensation for dogs who have value in the strict economic sense, such as a dog who appears in commercials or one who has been successful in the show ring, but not for a dog whose value comes from the family’s love alone.
Since dogs are legally considered property, the family’s attorney argued that financial compensation for their loss is legally comparable to the loss of family heirlooms due to negligence. The attorney called the decision a huge defeat for pets, and asserted that the family never cared about the money, but cared deeply about changing the law.
What do you think about the court’s unanimous decision not to allow people to sue for emotional damage resulting from a pet's death?
Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.