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You May Consider Your Dog Family; But NY Considers Him Property

    If you are an animal lover, you are not alone. In the U.S., nearly 70 million households own dogs; and 74 million own cats. That is a lot of pets, and a good number of people consider their pets to be family.

    In 2013, a New York judge agreed. He presided over a custody hearing for a miniature dachshund named Joey in what was New York’s first matrimonial pet-custody case. However, the law nationwide has not yet caught up to public opinion. And despite cases here and there of judges treating pets as “family,” under New York law, your cat or dog still is about as valuable as your toaster oven. Pets are considered property in New York.

    Not only can that fact cause you emotional turmoil when arguing over the custody of a pet, it also can cause you emotional turmoil should someone harm your pet, intentionally or unintentionally. Because pets in NY are not considered sentient beings, the amount of financial compensation you can recover for emotional distress, for example, if your neighbor were to harm or kill your pet, is quite limited, and very much depends upon the judge in your case.

    Since 2003, there has been a movement across the nation to change the status from pet owners to “pet guardians,” largely in the hopes that the change in language will assign more value to your cat or dog. Cities like San Francisco, for example, have adopted that terminology, as have Boulder, Colorado; Berkeley and West Hollywood in California; Sherwood, Arizona; Amherst, Massachusetts; Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin; and the entire state of Rhode Island. New York, though still regards Fido as a thing and not a being.

    What Does That Mean?

    That means that should someone harm your pet, you are entitled to sue for what the law considers “market value.” Determining that market value may be tricky unless you have a pet that is a pure-bred champion in the ring. Most people have mixed breeds, and determining their value often hinges upon emotional attachment.

    Of course, you may be entitled to veterinary care compensation, so keep careful track of vet expenses and ask your veterinarian to do the same. Unfortunately, in New York, the amount you can recover should someone harm your beloved pet often depends upon which judge is hearing your case. Of course, for expert advice, contact a knowledgeable attorney.

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