Joyce McDougall’s was walking her 9-year-old Maltese-poodle mix through their Morris Plains, NJ neighborhood in 2007 when a much larger mixed breed attacked and killed the tiny dog named Angel. McDougall sued Charlot Lamm, the other dog’s owner, for compensatory damages and for the emotional distress she says she suffered from seeing her pet killed violently. The other dog has since been euthanized.
More than Mere Property
Ms. McDougall argued that courts should consider pets as more than just property because they have achieved an elevated status in society as companions in the lives of human beings. She states that her dog was a constant companion, particularly after she and her husband divorced, and their three children grew up and moved out.
But the New Jersey Supreme Court decided McDougall was only entitled to $5,000 to replace her well-trained dog, which is at least four times what one would cost. “Although we recognize that many people form close bonds with their pets, we conclude that those bonds do not rise to the level of a close familial relationship or intimate, marital-like bond,” Justice Helen Hoens wrote in response to the case.
New Jersey’s Inconsistent Rules
Let’s not forget that this is the state that requires animals to be restrained in cars or face up to a $1,000 fine and a disorderly conduct offense under animal-cruelty laws. Failure to restrain a child only nets a $46 fine. So it does make one wonder how much the state values animals as companions (or people) or views them as potential revenue generators.
Courts in Florida, Hawaii and Louisiana have granted compensation for emotional distress stemming from the death of a pet. Illinois and Tennessee have passed laws allowing pet owners to recover damages for emotional distress.
What do you think about the NJ Supreme Court’s decision?
For more information, see NJ.com.
Maltipoo photo courtesy of tsmithucalgary.