Animal law is a relatively new and dynamic field with developmnets occurring at a rapid pace. If you own an animal, whether livestock or a family pet, you may find yourself involved in a legal issue concerning that animal. Who gets custody of the family dog in the case of a divorce? What remedy do you have if a groomer, veterinarian, or kennel owner accidently maims your pet? What laws protect farm animals? What rights do you have if someone steals or intentionally harms your cat or dog? What happens if your dog bites someone? Are specific dog breed bans legal? What should you do if you are disabled and your landlord won’t allow your service dog? The answers to these questions are complicated and vary from state to state, and even from city to city. Your situation may require assistance from an attorney with expertise in that particular area. For example, family law attorneys can draft pet custody agreements in the case of a divorce or seperation when the parties cannot agree. Some attorneys list “Animal Law” as an area of specialization. Former television host and animal advocate Bob Barker donated over 5 million dollars to law schools to initiate courses in animal law practice.
Animal law covers a vast number of topics including anti-cruelty laws, animal control, laboratory animal welfare, use of animals in education, wildlife and endangered species protection, dangerous animals, veterinarian malpractice, wrongful death or injury to a companion animal, animal ownership, “no pets” policies in housing units, and protections under the federal Animal Welfare Act. This column can only touch on a few of the practice areas. For additional information, you can check the following websites www.animallaw.info and www.animallaw.com to access laws concerning animals in your jurisdiction.
As a general rule, domestic pets are considered personal property. In cases where someone causes harm or loss of your pet, you may be compensated only by the “fair market value” of the pet and any related vet bills. In order to receive compensation for “mental anguish” to themselves, a pet owner must show that the plaintiff’s conduct was engaged in for the purpose of CAUSING emotional distress, not merely that they intended the act itself. The “fair market value” concept might seem unfair to owners of mix breed dogs who value their animals as members of the family. Other factors besides the purchase price may be taken into account by the Court, such as service dog status and whether you paid a lot of money for training. Legal matters can get complicated, even when they involve Fido or Fluffy.
All pet owners need a plan for their animals after they pass away or become too disabled to care for them. California is one of several states that have pet trust laws. One of the main reasons animals enter the Palm Springs City animal shelter is the death of the owners. These animals are held for a long period, unable to be adopted until the estate issues are determined. Estate planning should include a plan for your pets, and perhaps money to provide for their care. You should confirm your designated friend or family member is in agreement. Loving All Animals recently rescued a badly matted poodle that was left behind with 11 other dogs when her owner entered a nursing home….her adult daughter took some of the dogs to a public shelter. It’s not as simple as telling everyone, “The cats will go to my nephew Paul”, when the designated person may not be in a position to take them when the time comes. Best Friends Animal Society (www.bestfriends.org), a nonprofit animal welfare organization, offers a “back-up caregiver” service in conjunction with PetGuardian to ensure a good home if the original designee backs out.
Some might argue we have too many laws protecting animals. However, few would want to abolish our criminal statutes against animal abusers. A recent case in Menifee involved the unprovoked killing of a family’s chihuahua by a neighbor with a golf club. Little Lilly’s accused killer is currently being prosecuted in Riverside County under California’s anti-cruelty laws. Many studies show a link between those who torture and harm animals with behavior that escalates to violence against human beings.
Consider the words of former Senator Robert Byrd as he addressed Congress on the federal Humane Slaughter Act. “The affection that a dog provides is not only unlimited, it is unqualified, unconditional. A faithful dog does not judge its owner, it does not criticize him or her, it simply accepts him or her; it simply accepts us as we are, for who we are, no matter how we dress, no matter how much money we have or don’t have, and no matter what our social standing might be or not be……President Truman was supposed to have remarked: If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog……Barbaric treatment of helpless, defenseless creatures must not be tolerated even if these animals are being raised for food – – and even more so. Such insensitivity is insidious and can spread and is dangerous. Life must be respected and dealt with humanely in a civilized society…..Let us strive to be good stewards and not defile God’s creatures or ourselves by tolerating unnecessary, abhorrent, and repulsive cruelty”.