Pets as Property

Ramona and me dancing in the kitchen to The Cure. We're cool like that. A making-dinner interlude. January 2013.

Ramona and me dancing in the kitchen to The Cure. We're cool like that. A making-dinner interlude. January 2013.

In case you’re not up on the debate, the legal system generally classifies domestic animals as property. This causes offense to people who lose their beloved companion animals due to negligence and cannot secure damages other than the replacement value of the animal.

Few animal lovers feel that their pets are worth only the cost of the animal’s adoption fee or the breeder’s price. Many people argue that Spot is family, not chattel.

I consider Ramona family. In fact, she’s my only nuclear family, if you broaden the definition of “nuclear family” to include a group that shares the same home in a hierarchical relationship.

I’ve written about our nearly perfect wordless communication and how much she’s taught me about loyalty. Ramona cares whether I come home at night, she worries when I’m not happy, and when she stayed for a day at the veterinarian recently to have her teeth cleaned, my heart broke when I came home and the house stood empty.

If something happened to her, my devastation would not have words.

That said: I’m not sure I’d support changing the law to classify pets as family.

The only positive I see in changing the law to consider pets family is that we can then seek more significant financial damages for someone hurting our animals than we can currently. The law already prosecutes people for animal cruelty and malpractice. Rightfully so. Keep that up.

Yet more money in my pocket won’t bring back my pet.

In my mind, punishing people by making them pay me an increased amount of cash if they hurt my animal doesn’t outweigh the negatives of changing the law:

  • More lawsuits will clog up the legal system. Our society is litigious enough.

  • Increased defensive medicine on the part of veterinarians and increased costs of malpractice insurance mean more expensive veterinary care.

  • Most people pay out of their pockets for veterinary care. If care becomes drastically more expensive, people will need to buy insurance to cover the cost—and the price of insurance will go up to cover the veterinarians’ increased expenses.

  • Due to the increased cost of care and the increased need for and cost of pet insurance, fewer animals will get needed health care than currently do.

  • Currently, family courts divide pets as property. Once a pet becomes a family member, couples will have one more thing to wrangle over in court. Custody arrangements? Visitation?

  • At present, if you cannot afford expensive cancer treatments, you can decide to put the animal to sleep. You cannot put family members to sleep. With children, courts have intervened when parents have withheld or refused needed treatment. Will that begin to happen with pets, too?

What do you think?