How Much is a Dog Worth?

The Supreme Court of Georgia will soon decide if pets are worth more than their “market value.”
By JoAnna Lou, April 2016, Updated June 2021
Our pets are cherished family members who share our bed, accompany us on walks, and cheer us up when we're sad. But in the eyes of the law, animals are pretty much considered property. This distinction will soon be up for debate in Georgia.

Back in 2012, Bob and Elizabeth Monyak boarded their two dogs at Atlanta kennel Barking Hound Village while they were on a family vacation in France. When the Monyaks dropped the pups off, they gave special instructions to give Rimadyl to their Labrador Retriever, Callie, for her arthritis. But when they picked the dogs up, it seemed like something went wrong. Their Dachshund mix, Lola, had no appetite and started trembling the next day.

When they took Lola to the veterinarian, she was diagnosed with renal failure, which the vet believed was consistent with an overdose of Rimadyl. Lola received countless treatments from veterinarians in Georgia and Florida, but sadly Lola passed away nine months later.

The Monyaks sued the kennel, accusing them of giving Callie's medication to Lola. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court of Georgia, but the case in question was not whether the kennel caused Lola's death, but what damages the Monyaks are owed, if any.

Barking Hound Village argues that Lola is considered property and that the Monyaks are entitled only to her "market value." Since Lola was adopted, they allege the family is owned nothing. However, the Monyaks want to recover the $67,000 in veterinary expenses they spent on her care. In addition, they also want a jury to be able to consider the emotional value tied to Lola. The little pup was a part of their family for eight years and loosing her, especially under these circumstances, was heartbreaking.

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But there's not much precedent for awarding Monyak what they're asking for. David Favre, a law professor at Michigan State University, says that when it comes to damages for the death of a pet, state supreme courts have usually knocked down trial and appellate court decisions tied to emotional or "non-economic" damages. It's not unusual to get some compensation for veterinary costs, but $67,000 is a stretch.

The tide could be changing, but not very fast. In a few states, legislation has given the green light for some recoverable damages. For instance, in Tennessee, people can recover up to $5,000 "for the loss of the reasonable expected society, companionship, love and affection of the pet." David also notes that people can now create trust provisions for their pets, which is an acknowledgement that they aren't the same kind of property as a random object.

But it's also more complicated than it looks on the surface. The American Veterinary Medical Association is not in favor of the Monyaks receiving emotional damages because they believe a ruling in their favor could lead to increase liability for people who care and treat pets. Also, these situations would benefit the wealthy, since they tend to spend more on pet care (though this is not totally true, I have friends who have risked all of their savings to provide care for a sick dog.)

I think Bob Monyak makes a very good rebuttal. He says that "the amount people spend on pets would be irrational if they didn't have a value greater than their market value. No one would spent $1,000 to fix a $10 toaster."

While Barking Hound Village's lawyer, Joel McKie, believes that Lola "has no special training or unique characteristics, other than that of a 'family dog,'" I think we can all agree that a family dog, even one adopted for free, is far from worthless. When I think of my own pups, I know that their value is immeasurable. 

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 Image: Pexels

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