Posted by Jim_Daly Nov 16, 2011
It's a peculiar and sad story - and one that illustrates the unintended consequences of heightening (or surpassing) the status of a pet over that of a person.
The drama began two years ago in Fort Worth, Texas. It was there that Katherine Medlen's eight-year-old dog, Avery, somehow escaped from the house. She was picked up by a local animal control unit. The family was short on money and couldn't afford to immediately pay the fine and take her home.
Could they have a few more days to gather the necessary funds? That would be fine they were told, but in the process, the shelter made a grave mistake and wound up accidently euthanizing the dog.
All pet lovers can imagine the heartache and the tears that followed.
Although the Medlens reportedly forgave the worker responsible for putting the dog down, they still sued. In exchange for their loss they requested compensation commensurate with the "sentimental and intrinsic value" of Avery.
The first court that heard the case threw out the lawsuit because according to existing Texas law, since animals are not human, their owners are only entitled to be compensated for their fair-market value. But the appeals court disagreed, ruling:
"Dogs are unconditionally devoted to their owners. Today, we interpret timeworn supreme court law in light of subsequent supreme court law to acknowledge that the special value of 'man's best friend' should be protected."
I'll grant that pets do, indeed, have a "special value" to many of us. But here is a serious precedent-setting problem with the ruling:
According to Texas law anybody in the family can now sue to recover for the emotional damage caused by the loss of a pet, say, that's hit by a car. Yet, if your brother was hit and killed by that same driver, the law does not permit a sibling - or a grandparent - to likewise file suit.
In essence, the court is saying that damages should be allowed for the loss of a "canine best friend" but not for the loss of a "human best friend."
Sadly, we’ve become an excessively litigious society that demands that when our feelings are hurt, we should be compensated. The reality is that sometimes mistakes just happen.
Many will argue that pets should be afforded a specific "non-human" status and, admittedly, it’s easy to put family pets at the head of the class of the “protected” non-human categories. But this type of decision opens a Pandora’s Box of unintended consequences that will simply drive up costs of vet care, doggie day care, even dog food as the various pet-related industries are forced to protect themselves from lawsuits and claims for damages that don’t exist today.
Legal cases build upon past legal cases and they rarely remain limited to the original case’s fact scenario. Rather, they use the legal theory from the first case to expand into related areas, and before you know it, there are no limits any more.
Also, just imagine if your daughter, while babysitting for a neighbor, accidently leaves the gate open and the family dog in her care runs off. Instead of making $7 an hour she could very well be sued for $25,000! That's what I call a bad night.
Does the negligent death of one's animal rise above the uniqueness of being human in God's creation?
That's my perspective. What's yours?
I appreciate and value your input.
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About Jim Daly
Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family and host of its National Radio Hall of Fame-honored daily broadcast, heard by more than 2.9 million listeners a week on more than 1,000 radio stations across the U.S. He is husband to Jean and father to Trent and Troy.
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