The expansion of legal rights in our courts continues—from corporations (see: Strategic CSR – March 4, 2011; Strategic CSR – January 27, 2010; and Strategic CSR – October 26, 2009), to the environment (see: Strategic CSR, August 26, 2009), and now to cats and dogs:
"Americans have long seen dogs and cats as family members, but the law hasn't always agreed. Until the early 1900s, both animals were deemed so legally worthless that they didn't even qualify as property—and could be stolen or killed without repercussion. But as Americans began to spend millions, then billions, on food, toys and veterinary care for their pets, the law changed. Today, cats and dogs aren't just property; they are the most legally protected animals in the country."
Some examples of how the law now accommodates these family pets:
"Felony anticruelty laws in all 50 states impose up to $125,000 in fines and 10 years in prison for anyone who abuses animals. The federal Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, passed after Hurricane Katrina, requires rescue agencies to save pets as well as people during natural disasters. Judges have been increasingly willing to treat cats and dogs like people in the courtroom, allowing custody disputes over pets and granting large awards … including so-called noneconomic damages typically reserved for the death of a spouse or a child. In a few recent court cases, judges even gave dogs their own lawyers."
The rising amounts courts are willing to award owners against workers (dog walkers, home cleaning services, pet groomers, etc.) for any negligence that causes the loss of these animals has been steadily rising. In particular, vets are increasingly being exposed to the same malpractice lawsuits that many medical doctors face today:
"In 2004, a Los Angeles man won a $39,000 veterinary malpractice verdict for the death of his Labrador mix. The American Veterinary Medical Association warned that 'personhood' for pets could flood the courts, drive vets out of business and ultimately harm dogs and cats by making veterinary services prohibitively expensive."
Ironically, although a possible threat today, the article notes that vets were originally the cause of the rising legal status of cats and dogs:
"In the 19th century, [vets] would have shared the law's view that pets were worthless animals. Their work focused almost exclusively on economically valuable creatures such as horses and cows. But as these animals began to disappear from U.S. cities in the early 20th century, veterinarians often found themselves out of work. They turned to cats and dogs for the survival of their profession."
Where does all this lead? In addition to growing concern among vets:
"Firms involved in agriculture and biomedical research fear that personhood for pets could spill over to livestock and lab rats, stymying cures for human diseases and shutting down meat production."
A related story about an Argentinian court freeing an orangutan who was recognized as a "non-human person" that had been "unlawfully deprived of its freedom" by being held in captivity at Buenos Aires Zoo, is detailed in this Reuters article:
"In a landmark ruling that could pave the way for more lawsuits, the Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA) argued the ape had sufficient cognitive functions and should not be treated as an object."
David Chandler & Bill Werther
Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Stakeholders, Globalization, and Sustainable Value Creation (3e)
Instructor Teaching and Student Study Site: http://www.sagepub.com/chandler3e/
Strategic CSR Simulation: http://www.strategiccsrsim.com/
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Should pets be people too?
Should pets be people too?
By David Grimm
April 12-13, 2014
The Wall Street Journal
Late Edition – Final