Pets are property under the law. Most of us are somewhat offended by that status. Our companion animals are family members to us and we know they are priceless and invaluable when it comes to how they enrich our daily lives. But the reality is that sometimes having our beloved animals classified in the same manner as our cars is a good thing. I work in the legal field which means that I deal with legal concepts and issues every day. I am not an attorney; I am a paralegal. But I still understand legal concepts like case law as precedent and I still understand statutory law in terms of how statutes are written and interpreted. It is because of my legal focus that I am actually glad that my dog is my property.
There are places in our country where your dog can be seized from you if he or she either is (or just looks like) a particular breed. This amount to a seizure of your property. If law enforcement authorities were to knock on my door and try to take my dog because they think he looks like or is a _____________________ (fill in the blank), I would have legal options because for them to do so could be considered search and seizure of my property.
Every place in our country has laws about how long animals believed to be owned must be held if they are found running at large. This is usually referred to as the "property hold period." If my dog gets loose because I am driving down the road, get in a wreck and my dog manages to escape his harness and flee the scene in fear, he may very well end up in an animal shelter. Depending on the location, he must be held ____ (fill in the blank) number of days to give me and the members of my family an opportunity to reclaim him. In that same scenario, if the shelter where my dog ends up does not keep him for the requisite hold period and instead kills him or adopts him out to another family, I have legal options because they have either destroyed or converted my property. (There have been a number of lawsuits in recent years about "oops" killings at shelters and about how much the lives of those animals killed are actually worth.)
My dog will never be seized for looking like a pit bull terrier and we don't live in a city that has breed bans or restrictions. My dog will likewise never end up in a shelter because my husband and I take extraordinary steps to ensure his safety at all times so that he will never be displaced or become lost and so he can be identified in the event of a disaster or crisis. But some recent events in Wisconsin have led me to consider what I would do or what may happen to my dog if we lived there. Thank goodness we do not.
There is legislation pending in Wisconsin right now which will shorten the time period shelters hold animals from seven days to four days. I am told passage of the bill is a foregone conclusion. The legislation does not specify if those are four calendar days or four business days (which is a big deal). The bill (in its latest version) says, "under this bill, the period after which a stray or abandoned animal may be treated as unclaimed is reduced to four days." Supporters of this legislation, including the Best Friends Animal Society and a host of self-proclaimed no kill advocates, have applauded this bill. The argument is that by reducing the hold period, that speeds up the process by which animals can be put into new homes or released to rescue groups. In a perfect world, I would agree. But the world is not perfect and the last time I checked with people I know there, Wisconsin was not perfect. From where I sit, reducing the property hold period is a good thing in only the most progressive of communities where it is easy to find out where a lost pet may be housed and where there are programs in place which will assure that "unclaimed" animals will be spared and not killed. To enact legislation like this which will affect an entire state is really hard for me to understand. One laws are on the books, they are hard to change. Just the simple failure to clarify whether we are talking about calendar or business days is troubling to me. But it is not as troubling as making this shortened hold period apply in every community in Wisconsin, regardless of how hard it may be for an owner to find their pet or how hard some shelters work (or do not work) to save lives.
I live in a state which has a lot of challenges in terms of animal welfare. Some communities are more progressive than others. Although I engage with a few communities which are working incredibly hard to save the lives of shelter animals, the vast majority of animals which end up in "shelters" here are simply destroyed once the property hold period ends. If the Wisconsin bill were to be enacted in my state, it would not speed up the process by which animals are adopted or released to rescue groups in most places. It would simply speed up the process by which they are destroyed while local elected officials applaud the fact that they can house animals for shorter periods of time and save taxpayers money as they get rid of so -called “unwanted” animals faster.
I am glad my dog is my property. I am glad we do not live in Wisconsin. But I also know from my job that legislation is infectious both for good and for bad. A good law can be an example for others to follow. Just like a bad law can be an example for others to follow. Will a time come when a law like the one pending in Wisconsin comes to my state? I certainly hope not, but the possibility is very real.
Do you know how many days you have to find and reclaim your dog or cat if they end up lost or displaced from you? If you love or value them, now is the time to find out just how much time you would have if the unthinkable happened and also to take steps to ensure they can be identified through the use of a simple microchip.
(image courtesy of Peace and Paws Dog Rescue)
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson