Pets are Like Therapists but Still Considered Property

When I hug my family dog during a visit to my family home, I feel like he understands me. Life can be ruff but a family pet can make things feel so much better. He comes over to cuddle with me on the couch and gets in my face when I’m feeling melancholy. The more I study my family dog’s behavior, the more I see how much like a human he is. How then can the law still consider Leo a piece of property?

 

Plenty of studies show the therapeutic effects of spending time with an animal. According to the National Center for Health Research, “Companion animals may improve heart health by lowering blood pressure and regulating the heart rate during stressful situations.” Plenty of service dogs are allowed into hospitals to help ease the pain of the suffering patients. According to an article in Frontiers on Psychology, human animal interactions are proven to benefit human “…social attention, social behavior, interpersonal interactions, and mood; stress-related parameters such as cortisol, heart rate, and blood pressure; self-reported fear and anxiety; and mental and physical health, especially cardiovascular diseases.”

In New York dogs are generally considered personal property, See, Travis v. Murray, 42 Misc. 3d 447 (Sup Ct, NY County, 2013), citing, Mullaly v People, 86 NY 365 [1881]Schrage v Hatzlacha Cab Corp., 13 AD3d 150 [1st Dept 2004]; Rowan v Sussdorff, 147 App Div 673 [2nd Dept 1911]; ATM One, LLC v Albano, 2001 NY Slip Op 50103[U] [Nassau Dist Ct 2001]). However, the standard of “what is “best for all concerned” has been applied to determine which party should have custody of the animal, Travis v. Murray, 42 Misc. 3d 447, 461 (Sup. Ct, NY County, 2013). This factor is similar to the best interests of the child standard which is generally applied across the states in deciding upon child custody.

Although most jurisdictions refuse to extend child custody concepts to pets in their entirety, many have started to apply factors commonly applied to child custody such as the ‘best interest’ to determine the best placement for the pet Travis v. Murray, 42 Misc. 3d 447, 456-457 (Sup. Ct., NY County 2013). Nearby states have also deviated from the formerly strict view that pets are property, such as Vermont, Wisconsin, SeeMorgan v Kroupa, 167 Vt 99, 103, 702 A2d 630, 633 [1997]; Rabideau v City of Racine (243 Wis 2d 486, 491, 627 NW2d, 795, 798 [2001]. Alaska and Alabama  have gone so far as to award custody of an animal, SeeJuelfs v. Gough, 41 P. 3d 593 (Alaska Supreme Court 2002);  Placey v Placey 51 So 3d 374 [Ala Ct Civ App 2010].

However, courts have stopped short of considering animals to have the same rights or responsibilities as human beings no matter how human they may seem. New York denies that Chimpanzees have human rights Nonhuman Rights v. Stanley, 49 Misc. 3d 746 (Supreme Court NY County, 2015). In fact the owner of the animal still retains liability for the harmful acts of his animal Colombini v. Benitez, 2016 NY Slip Op 31829 (Sup. Ct., NY County 2016). 

Although the Courts have been inching towards recognizing that your puppy is more than just chattal, he does not have the same rights as you do nor does he have the same legal responsibilities.