Putting A Price on The Love of Your Pet

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When a pet is lost, the battle over the emotional value of that pet begins. Our vet sends a condolency card each time one of our pets passes away in their care. Is this enough for some people?

We love our pets dearly and invest countless hours forming an emotional bond as worthwhile as any other relationship. Can any monetary value replace the pain of losing a beloved pet? An interesting battle over the true value of a pet has been causing a stir in Texas and you might be surprised which side some animal welfare advocates are taking.

Back in 2009, a dog named Avery escaped from his yard. His family found him at a local animal shelter but did not have enough money to claim him. They made arrangements with the shelter to hold him and returned later with the money. Despite a “hold for owner” tag on Avery’s cage, the shelter had euthanized him early. This was heartbreaking news for owners Kathryn and Jeremy Medlen.

The Medlen’s lawyered up and sued for the loss of their pet. Surprisingly The Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth, Texas overturned a lower court’s ruling that the family was entitled to “property” damages equaling the market value of their dog. The new ruling cited a 120-year-old Texas Supreme Court decision as precedent and allowed the dog’s sentimental value to be awarded. This means pets are now considered similar to family heirlooms that might be of negligible monetary value but have great emotional worth.

“It is the first time in Texas history that an appeals court has allowed a pet owner to recover sentimental-value damages for the death of a dog,” said Randy Turner, the Fort Worth attorney who represents the Medlens. “This is a huge deal for pet owners. Up until the Medlen case, if a person came to see me wanting to sue someone for killing their dog, I had to tell them it was not worth it.”

Some top pet industry organizations are actually opposed to the court decision. The idea being the costs of liability would increase the cost of pet services. The American Veterinary Medical Association (their original article), American Kennel Club, the Cat Fanciers’ Association, Animal Health Institute, American Pet Products Association, and Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council are just some of those with fears of frivolous lawsuits claiming “pain and suffering” would make veterinary care unaffordable for many pet owners.

“If this becomes the law of the land, it will lead to higher costs to own a pet, disproportionally hurting middle-class and low-income pet owners. Who will pay for those higher damage awards? The rest of us pet owners, of course,” said Adrian Hochstadt, AVMA Assistant Director of State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs. “The obvious consequences will include fewer people being able to own pets and, unfortunately, more animal abandonment.”

Since 1997, courts in Kentucky and California have awarded damages to pet owners for loss of companionship, emotional distress and other factors. In 1997, a Kentucky jury awarded $15,000 to the owner of a German shepherd, Sheba, who bled to death after surgery. In 2000, a judge in Costa Mesa, California, awarded almost $28,000 in damages to a woman whose Rottweiler, Lonnie, had to have its teeth capped after a bungled dental surgery.

Why don’t warring parties find a way to settle? In the case of Lucky, a pet died after dental surgery because his vet sent him to an animal emergency center for recovery because it was closing time, there was on way to compromise. “These doctors worked hard to save this animal,” the lawyer representing the vet says. “They feel victimized by this. They feel falsely accused.” Lucky’s owner says, “If he had just told us what happened and said, ‘I’m sorry, forgive me, it was an accident,’ we wouldn’t be doing this.” How many cases can be resolved with an apology?

Legal experts say the Medlen battle over Avery will likely end up in Texas Supreme Court. How do you think this case will unfold? Will this case change animal law across the US? Will this be the start of a new attitude towards pets that reflects the growing trend of pets as members of the family? Will it lead to stiffer punishment for those found guilty of animal abuse and neglect? Will this lead to frivolous lawsuits and an attack on the veterinary and pet service industry? We’ll have to wait and see.

If you have a great idea for an article about guinea pigs, please let us know. Guinea Pig Today is a network of guinea pig lovers and we’re always looking for the next great story. View our submissions page for more information on how to submit your idea.

Angela, Editor-in-Chief, GPT

Angela founded Guinea Pig Today and guest writes for CavyMadness. She volunteers with Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue and supports the ROUS Foundation. Her guinea pig, Papua, is the star of WHEK-TV/DT.

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2 Responses to “Putting A Price on The Love of Your Pet”
  1. Becky says:

    WOW! What a difficult topic. I’m having a hard time deciding where I come down on this issue. I can remember a very big scandal years ago when a very well thought of Veterinarian had a surgical patient die on the table while he was talking to a drug rep. The family took it to the media when they had no legal recourse. I was in total sympathy with the dogs owners. Now that I work in rescue and see the SPCA dollars being stretched thinner and thinner each year, the thought of dollars being taken away from the small percent of animals they are able to care for (going to insurance premiums) is very distressing. Most SPCAs work so very hard to do a lot with so little. Having said that I know there are some that are very poorly managed and need some serious over site. So at the end of this thought process I still don’t know what side my feeling fall on. It’s a far reaching issue that could have a very large price tag in hurt and pain no matter which way things go.

  2. I know what you mean Becky, and I don’t work in a rescue. If someone is negligent, then seeking redress and exposing their negligence so that others don’t suffer is a sensible and valuable route to take. But it seems these days that people just sue in order to get compensation, ‘just one of those things’ is not a common response. Our pets do die, we just hope that they live a long and happy life and don’t die unnecessarily. If sueing becomes common then prices of vet care will rise and that will be to the detriment of our animals. It comes back to taking responsbility for our pets and understanding the vets better – and having good vets. But some people don’t have good vets, and some people don’t take responsibility.
    No, I don’t know where I stand on it either.

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