I would be lying to you if I said I didn't tear up while researching for and writing this post. Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge animal lover, especially dogs. I have had dogs in my family my entire life. I currently have two of the most amazing dogs you'll ever meet (obviously I'm not biased at all). In fact just today, someone sent a care package to my office – filled with treats for my dogs – because she knows how much I love them. What can I say? Animals are my soft spot.
The idea of using the law to help those (people or animals) who cannot help themselves is amazing to me. It is a huge reason why I went to law school – to be able to speak for those who do not have a voice. That being said, I want to share with you the story of Juno – a dog in Oregon who was taken from his owner because of suspected animal neglect.
An Oregon Humane Society worker made a visit to Juno's owner's house and saw the dog in a “near emaciated condition”. Juno was taken from his owner and brought in for treatment at the Humane Society. Part of that treatment involved a blood test to determine if Juno's condition was the result of neglect or another condition (such as disease or parasite) that caused him to be so thin. Blood tests did not show anything wrong with Juno and it was therefore concluded that he was malnourished. His owner was charged with second-degree animal neglect.
Juno's owner argued that the Humane Society seized her property (Juno's blood) without a warrant and that seizure was unlawful. Successfully making this argument would mean the results of the blood test would be kept out of court. After going through the trial and appeals courts, the Oregon Supreme Court finally concluded;
“With regard to living animals, and domestic pets in particular, we have recognized that “some animals, such as pets, occupy a unique position in people's hearts and in the law,” one that is not well-reflected in the “cold characterization of a dog as mere property.”
If you are reading this quote and thinking, “That's obvious, I love my dog (or cat)!” you may not realize that in most states pets are property – meaning they have the same legal protection as your furniture, television set, shoes or mattress. [WHAT?!?!?!] I think every pet owner would tell you they value their pets more highly than they value a table or chair and would want more legal protection for their pets.
Texas is one of the states that views pets as property. What this means is that if your pet is injured by the negligence of another, you get to make a property damage claim. The bad news is that Texas does not award any damages for pain and suffering on property damage claims. So you'd get paid for the economic value of the animal, there would be no consideration of the emotional value your pet has to you.
In 2013, the Supreme Court of Texas in Strickland v. Medlen declined to award damages to a family whose dog, Avery, was mistakenly euthanized. The court explained that Avery's value was derived from his usefulness and services, not from his companionship or the relationship that was developed between Avery and the Medlen family. In order to even consider recovery for the pain and suffering for the loss of Avery, the family would have to have made a loss of consortium claim (a type of personal injury claim). However, loss of consortium claims are reserved for close familial relationships like those of a spouse, child or parent. They do not extend to pets. The court cited its 100 plus year history of “pets as property” when declining to award damages to the Medlen family.
This is where I disagree with Texas law. I think most would agree pets are not mere property. We give our pets a name, they have a place in our families, we take them on vacation with us, we get them medical care when necessary and when the time comes, we mourn for them. This is vastly different treatment than what we give to our tables and chairs.
The Oregon Supreme Court summed it up perfectly in Juno's case when it stated, “animals “are sentient beings capable of experiencing pain, stress and fear[.]” They may be property, but they are also living breathing beings, and deserve more protection that inanimate objects. I am hopeful that the recent ruling in Oregon will be an example for other states as legal issues involving animals arise and that animals will be afforded a higher place in our laws.
If you're wondering what happened to Juno after he was taken from his owner, he was successfully treated at the Humane Society and later adopted. We are glad to say that this pup's story had a happy ending. Who knows? Maybe one day we'll be citing “Juno's Law” in the process of protecting pets from the negligence of owners and recovering for pet owners the true value of their pets.
Below is a photo of a Juno and a bonus pics of my dogs - Jasper & Allie. Enjoy!