I work in the legal field and am also considered the resident "animal person" in my law firm. When people need help placing an animal, they ask me. When they need help adopting an animal, they call me. Every now and then our law librarian (a dog lover) passes along a legal opinion brought to his attention related to animals and we invariably have some discussion about the case. It makes my job more interesting when my animal welfare interests become related to how I spend my days.
On June 6, 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court rendered an opinion in a case involving a dog who became gravely ill after having been administered medication improperly by a boarding facility. Her owners ultimately spent almost $70,000 trying to save Lola, their 8 ½ year old Dachshund mix they had adopted from a rescue center at the age of two. They were not able to save her and Lola later died. The case ended up on appeal to "the Supremes" related to issues about the value of the dog. Her family argued they were entitled to compensation for expenses paid treating her and trying to save her life. The boarding facility argued that because she was obtained from a rescue center, she had no value and the family was not entitled to compensation for her veterinary care because the amount they spent was unreasonable.
I found it very interesting that the court had to go back to cases from more than a hundred years ago for legal precedent. People may not realize this happens, but it does all the time. The law is an evolving, ever changing landscape. But if the last cases factually similar to one now are from 1850, they are still legal precedent. In the end, the Supremes ruled, as they had to, in accordance with Georgia law. The case was sent back to the trial court in accordance with the ruling that the family was entitled to seek damages for the loss of the value of the dog and for reasonable veterinary expenses. The court was not in a position to allow the family to seek damages for the sentimental value of Lola just because Georgia law doesn't provide for that remedy.
In spite of the limitations put on the ruling, I found some of the wording of the opinion to be quite enlightened and I see it as an indication that times are changing related to how we view the "value" of our companion animals. The court began the opinion with this sentence: "The subject matter of this case is near and dear to the heart of many a Georgian in that it involves the untimely death of a beloved family pet and concerns the proper measure of damages available to the owners of an animal injured or killed through the negligence of others." The court also stated the following near the end of the opinion, which I choose to interpret consistent with my own values:
"We agree with those courts which have held that the unique human-animal bond, while cherished, is beyond legal measure."
Time will tell how our laws continue to evolve related the value of our companion animals in our legal system. If you're anything like me, your dog is priceless to you and you want your laws to reflect that if anything were to ever happen to them due to the conduct of others. Lola was one dog. But she could have been my dog or yours.
You can read the entire opinion in the case of Barking Hound Village, LLC v. Monyak here.
(image courtesy of Peace and Paws Dog Rescue, Inc.)
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