How the Judicial System Views Our Pets

In April of 2013, the Texas Supreme Court reversed a case ruling by a State Appellate Court involving the question of whether a dog was a family member or property. It upheld a 122 year old legal precedent barring emotional damage claims in a pet’s death.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled that pets are property and therefore, owners may not sue for emotional damages due to the loss of a pet.

Had the Texas Supreme Court ruled otherwise, the effect would be a negative on the veterinary community and there would have been lots of angry vets.

Don Willett, a Justice of the Court, wrote the following:

“True, a beloved companion dog is not a fungible, inanimate object, say, a toaster. The term ‘property’ is not a perjorative but a legal descriptor and its use should not be miscontrued as discounting the emotional attachment that pet owners undeniably feel.”

In other words, in the eyes of the law, pets are considered property and a dog’s value is determined by it’s market values or in the case of working dogs, its usefulness to the owner.

Not too many years ago, dogs, cats, horses, all animals, were thought to have no feelings or emotions. We have since learned that indeed they are feeling beings. Where most animals were looked upon as strictly workers by most people, our emotional attachment has grown steadily. Now, most households consider their pets as members of the family and are treated as such.

This presents a problem for the courts due to the high divorce rate where both parties seek custody of the pet. Most custody cases (88%) involve dogs while cats are in 5% of custody disputes.

The courts still consider pets as property, but judges must now determine which home offers the best and safest environment for the pet. In some cases, joint custody is the ruling.

It’s a complicated issue and while some people use the pet to bargain for a better settlement, we hope that the care and needs of the pet will always be the primary concern.

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