The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them. –Maya Angelou
This morning, the Supreme Court of Texas heard oral arguments in a case that may decide how much dogs and cats in Texas are worth. In the lawsuit, a Texas animal shelter killed a dog despite knowing who its owners were and that they wanted it back. The shelter called its conduct accidental euthanasia. But killing a dog by putting poison in its veins is no accident. And killing a healthy dog is no euthanasia.
In any event, the legal question presented in the case is this: when someone negligently or intentionally kills a pet (which is considered personal property in Texas), how much should the wrongdoer have to pay to reimburse the pet’s owner for his or her loss?
Under current Texas Supreme Court precedent regarding the destruction or loss of personal property, that answer may be a sum of money that is more than the mere replacement cost of the animal: under some circumstances, it may include the owner’s sentimental attachment to the animal.
In the 1997 City of Tyler v. Likes case, this is what the Texas Supreme Court said when discussing what damages might be recoverable for the destruction of personal items:
In some cases . . . the damaged property [has a] small market value [and its] primary value [is] in sentiment. Such property can only be adequately valued subjectively; yet, the owner should still be compensated. . . . The owner’s feelings thus help determine the value of the destroyed item to the owner. . . .
So, putting aside whether Texas is right or wrong to consider companion animals personal property (the No Kill Advocacy Center believes it’s wrong to do so), the issue in the case boils down to whether dogs are worth the same as items of property for which the primary value is in sentiment (like photos or personal memorabilia) or whether dogs are worth less than other property.
I think it’s fair to say that most reasonably objective people—and all pet lovers—would agree that it would be absurd to argue that pets are worth less than other items of property. I think it’s fair to say that most reasonably objective people—and again, all pet lovers—would agree that pets are worth considerably more to them than other items of personal property. So however animals should be valued by the law, however much pet owners should reasonably be able to recover, there should be no circumstances in which a person should be able to recover less for someone intentionally killing their pet than, say, someone accidentally losing a photo of their pet.
And then there’s the AKC (the American Kennel Club). The AKC is, primarily, a dog-breeding organization. It says on its own website that its primary mission is to “uphold . . . the integrity of its Registry,” and that it aims to “[a]dvance the study, breeding, exhibiting, running and maintenance of purebred dogs.“
The AKC is not a party to the Texas case. It is not being sued and no purebred dog is involved. But the AKC nonetheless got involved, not only filing an amicus curaie brief on behalf of the shelter manager that killed the owner’s dog, but also sent its high-powered Washington, D.C. lawyer to Austin to present oral argument in the case.
And what did that high-powered lawyer argue? Surely he argued that dogs have special, inherent value because of the very real bond they have with their owners and the integral role pets play in modern lives, right? The AKC couldn’t possibly have paid to send a D.C. power player to Texas to argue that most people’s pets are absolutely worthless, right?
Wrong. Asked directly by a Texas Supreme Court Justice what the value of an “old, blind dog” is, the AKC’s lawyer answered “you have to draw the line.” He didn’t finish his sentence because he didn’t have to and didn’t want to see his quote in the paper. What he communicated was that the Texas Supreme Court should value purebred dogs based on their market value as purebreds, but when a non-registered pet becomes just an old, blind dog, to the AKC at least, it is worthless.
The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.
The AKC thinks shelter dogs are worthless. They think rescue dogs are worthless. They think the dog or cat that likely sleeps with you at night has no value, and if your neighbor intentionally poisons your pet and kills it, well, it’s just your own tough luck.
Here’s the line I draw, AKC: you don’t love dogs and you know it. You love money. You love being paid to register purebreds. You love to think about how special your dog is compared to everyone else’s. You love pageants and competitions and ribbons.
But you don’t love dogs.