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JoAnna Lou
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Value of Dogs in the Legal World
Texas court makes a controversial decision in the worth of a pet
The Medlens and their beloved dog, Avery.

In 2009, Kathryn and Jeremy Medlen’s dog, Avery, escaped from their backyard and landed at the local animal shelter. When Jeremy went to retrieve Avery, he didn’t have enough money for the claim fee. Jeremy was told that he could return for Avery in a couple of days and a “hold for owner” tag was placed on the cage.

In a horrible twist of events, a shelter employee placed Avery on a euthanasia list, despite the cage tag. When Jeremy returned to the shelter with the money, he found out that Avery had been put to sleep.

Devastated, Kathryn and Jeremy filed a lawsuit against the shelter employee to recover sentimental value, even though the law has a history of awarding only market value for an animal. The first court ruled in favor of the shelter employee, but a Texas appellate court overturned the decision.

“Dogs are unconditionally devoted to their owners,” acknowledged the appellate court. “We interpret timeworn supreme court law in light of subsequent court law to acknowledge that the special value of ‘man’s best friend’ should be protected.”

If sentimental value can be awarded for certain types of property, like family heirlooms, then pets should certainly receive that designation as a bare minimum. Of course I would love if animals were taken out of the property category, but at least this is a step in the right direction, and certainly a no brainer.

However, it turns out that many pet industry organizations are advocating against the appellate court’s decision, including the American Veterinary Medical Association (read more about its stance), the American Kennel Club, the Animal Health Institute, the American Pet Products Association and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.

These groups claim that liability from lawsuits of this nature would cause pet service fees to increase greatly and make veterinary care unaffordable for many people.

I understand that this ruling could open the floodgates for frivolous lawsuits that would put veterinarians and other pet service people at risk, but pets are not property in my book. We have to carefully shape the law so that it protects both humans and animals.

Legal experts believe that Avery’s case will end up in Texas Supreme Court. It’s unclear how they will rule, but their decision will certainly have huge implications for the laws that protect our pets.

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by the Medlen family.

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