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Legal beagles will rejoice if they can sue for emotional loss for pet owners
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How much is that doggie in the window?

Or more precisely, how much is that doggie worth in terms of sentimental value if someone kills it, either accidentally or intentionally?

It’s a question facing the Texas Supreme Court. Jeremy and Kathryn Medlen have sued the City of Fort Worth after their 7-year-old dog was picked up after escaping from their yard. They were told by animal control workers their dog would be waiting for them to retrieve. But when they got to the animal shelter they discovered the dog had been mistakenly put to death.

The Medlens haven’t stated an amount they want. Instead, they say they sued to try to create a legal incentive for people to take good care of animals.

Holy cow or, more precisely, holy sacred cow.

If such a precedent is granted, pet medical services could rival the cost of human health care. And given how people are attached not as much to their pets as they are to suing it could bring our judicial system to a standstill.

Veterinarians would be required to obtain additional insurance to cover emotional losses should Fido die on the table or from a post-operation complication. They will have to pass on higher premiums as a cost of doing business. That means higher veterinarian bills.

It doesn’t stop there.

What if you accidentally kill a neighbor’s dog while backing out of your driveway? Or what if Fluffy is killed by your dog in higher backyard? You could face a big legal bill and a massive settlement if sued. All risk coverage for homeowners and drivers would skyrocket. What could happen if insurance companies may refuse homeowner coverage if you have pets? It is already being done if you have select breeds due to excessive dog bite claims.

Municipalities running animal shelters would have increased exposure.

That would lead to significantly higher licensing fees resulting in fewer people paying them. Cities might then be forced to hire full-time dog licensing cops in order to make sure everyone is paying since they need to cover increased costs.

Think of the scam potential. The same type of folks that now work insurance fraud would suddenly become the world’s most intense animal lovers.

Then there is the detail of what defines a pet. If someone is really attached to a goldfish and it is killed somehow by someone else’s negligence such as a moving crew knocking over the tank, can they sue too for emotional loss?

And how much is a pet worth to you emotionally? Is it worth a million dollars?

Once owners have gained legal standing to sue for emotional damages should their pet die via someone’s negligent act, brace yourself for the revenge of grieving gardeners.

What if their beloved and prized rhododendron that is the apple of their eye is killed by repeated visits of a neighbor’s cat and they have the security footage to prove it? The same question could apply to turf fanatics who suffer dead blades as the result of a dog down the street doing their thing on their lawn.

People can get pretty emotionally attached to their lawns and plants. They’re living things, too, that provide a degree of companionship.

No one should marginalize someone’s attachment to their pets.

If their pet is killed by gross negligence or gross indifference then perhaps there should be grounds to sue with a set cap on damages.

In the Medlens’ case, the animal shelter worker admitted making a mistake. The Medlens, though haven’t offered one iota of evidence that it was gross negligence or even gross indifference.

Without such a determination costs of everything from treating sick animals to picking up strays will skyrocket.

That may finally answer the age-old question about the cost of that doggie in the window.

But unless you’re Michael Vick you’re probably not going to be able to afford it.


This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.