Animal Rights Laws: Pets and Personal Injury

What to Know About Animal Rights Laws

Animal rights laws are laws that aim to protect animals from harm and mistreatment. These laws vary depending on the jurisdiction, but they often cover issues such as animal cruelty, abuse, neglect, and exploitation. It is important to be aware of the laws that pertain to animal rights in your area and to comply with those laws to ensure the well-being of animals and to avoid legal repercussions.

What are the Laws that Protect Our Pets?

A few short weeks ago, I walked into the Lexington Humane Society with hope in my heart and dog treats in hand. I had been searching for months and had finally received word that a couple of puppies, just born, were up for adoption. Within two hours I had a cart full of puppy pads, food, dog toys, and a sleeping “Walnut” nestled in my arms. The rest, as they say, is history.

I am not alone in my devotion to my newly acquired furry friend. It is estimated that there are over three hundred and ninety-three million pets in America, with eighty-nine million of those pets being dogs. Like many Americans, Walnut goes with me everywhere – the park, his favorite pet store, and sometimes even to the office. My puppy is not just an animal or a possession, Walnut is a best friend, confident, and forever companion. But what happens if Walnut were to be injured by the actions of another? Does the law share my strong feelings about my furry friend?

Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding “no.” But here are two federal animal rights laws enacted currently:

Animal Welfare Act

One of the most important federal animal rights laws in the United States is the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The AWA sets standards for the treatment of animals used in research, exhibition, and transport, and it also regulates commercial breeding and sale of certain animals. The act does not provide protection for all types of animals, for example, wild animals in the wild, hunting, and fishing are not regulated by the AWA.

Additionally, many states have their own animal cruelty laws that supplement and expand upon the protections provided by the AWA. These laws can cover a wide range of activities, such as intentional acts of violence against animals, neglect, and abandonment.

Humane Slaughter Act

Another important animal rights law is the Humane Slaughter Act, which regulates the handling, housing, and slaughter of animals for food. The act requires animals to be handled and treated humanely prior to being slaughtered. Animals that are not covered by the AWA and other federal laws may be protected by state-level legislation. Some states have passed laws that prohibit the use of animals in circuses, for example, and others have laws that prohibit the hunting or trapping of certain animal species.

In addition to laws that prohibit cruelty and mistreatment of animals, there are also laws that protect the rights of animals in other ways, such as laws that allow animals to be included in domestic violence restraining orders, laws that permit service animals to accompany their owners in public places, and laws that recognize the legal personhood of nonhuman animals, such as great apes.

Are Animals Property or Persons?

While every state is different, most states agree: a pet is considered a piece of chattel or property under the law and nothing more. This means that if your pet is injured by someone else’s negligence, you will only be entitled to recover the value of the dog itself. So how do you define a dog’s value? Walnut’s curious bark, floppy ears, and spunky personality are worth their weight in gold to me.

However, the law recognizes just how difficult of a task it would be for a judge or an attorney to put a dollar amount on the cuteness of Walnut’s ears or puppy bark.  It is very difficult to put a dollar amount on the value of companionship and emotional support. Therefore, as a resolution to this problem, the law simply values animals for their market value in a commercial context.

So, while your pure pred poodle with a lavish haircut may be valued at the going market rate of $5,000.00, a small oddly proportioned Walnut with bat ears and a mysteriously curled tail, might be valued somewhere around the $300.00 range. Walnut’s winning personality and curly tail are simply not factored into the analysis at all.

The Wrongful Death of a Pet

If you are thinking about the cruel repercussions of this fact, rest assured that you are not alone. While there are currently no wrongful death statutes for pets, a Kentucky court recently held that there may be an avenue of recovery for owners suffering from mental anguish and emotional distress because of their furry friend’s death or injury.

The court states in pertinent part that an action for intentional infliction of emotional distress is not necessarily barred because the subject at issue is an animal instead of a person. New York has recent cases that have held that an owner may be entitled to damages for their loss of companionship.

Throughout the years, great strides have been made to ensure that animals are treated humanely and America has enjoyed a rich history of prosecuting animal cruelty in criminal courts. However, American civil law is a long way away from recognizing pets and all their incredible worth and enrichment in our lives. Activists and supporters of animal law reform are making progress every day with the hope that one day the law will reflect the true value of the companionship of animals.

Pet Ownership Liability

If you own a pet, it is important to be aware that you may be liable for any injuries that your pet causes to another person. This is known as “strict liability” and it means that you can be held responsible for injuries caused by your pet even if you did not know that your pet was capable of causing harm or if you took steps to prevent your pet from causing harm.

For example, if your dog bites someone, you can be held liable for the injuries that person sustained as a result of the bite. Similarly, if your cat scratches someone, you can be held liable for any injuries that person sustains as a result of the scratch.

Be aware of your state’s laws, as the laws regarding pet ownership and personal injury can vary depending on the location. Some states have laws that can limit or exempt liability in certain situations, such as if the person who was injured was trespassing on your property or if you can prove that the person who was injured was at fault for the injury.

Maintain insurance coverage, as liability insurance can help protect you financially in case you are held liable for injuries caused by your pet. Many homeowners insurance policies or renters insurance policies include liability coverage, and you can also purchase a specific liability policy for your pet.

Liability for personal injury caused by pets is not limited to dogs and cats, but any type of pet including other domestic animals, livestock, and wild animals kept in captivity. To avoid being held liable for any injuries caused by your pet, it’s important to take steps to prevent your pet from causing harm, such as properly training and socializing your pet, keeping your pet under control at all times, and making sure that your pet is properly confined to your property.