WomenBorzoi_Nance 020215
Issue Background

Legal Status of Animals

Dogs do it all: from serving the public as police K-9s, to working as service and performance animals, to serving their owners as wonderful pets. It’s no wonder that our society holds dogs in very high esteem!  In fact, dogs are such a beloved part of our lives that it has become common for owners to consider dogs as part of their family. For centuries, however, owners have been able to protect the dogs they love because lawmakers and the courts have legally treated animals—whether livestock or pets—not as family members, but instead as property. This traditional treatment gives owners opportunities to decide the best ways to keep their dogs and for the reasons they want to keep them, whether as pets, as competition dogs, or as part of a responsible breeding program. 

Now, some animal rights groups want to change that traditional legal treatment.  Instead, as their name implies, their ultimate goal is for animals to be given legal rights, just the same as people.  Not only would this ultimately end owners’ legal rights in their pets, but it would also leave an unknown system in its place that would put the care of all animals in jeopardy.    

Radical groups have already begun pushing for changes in the legal treatment of animals.  Animal “guardianship” bills attempt to replace the term “owner” in statutes, but instead only reduce the legal status of dogs as property and restrict the rights of owners, veterinarians, and government agencies to protect and care for dogs.  Additionally, they also seek to allow non-economic damages in certain pet injury cases—for example, allowing financial recovery for pain and suffering (usually only available to people in special relationships) resulting from an accident where the dog is injured—which would likely result in more frivolous and expensive litigation. 

The traditional legal treatment of animals as property has resulted in a predictable and reliable system that protects both animals and their owners’ rights.  It is important that the traditional legal treatment of animals as property continue.  

“…The risk of increased legal liability will result in increased costs…for all parties in the animal care chain while posing increased risks to public health.”