In a famous case from 2013, a family dog escaped its backyard and was picked up by animal control. The owners identified the pet as theirs and said they would return to pay the fees and pick up the animal. When they did, they found out the dog had been euthanized by mistake.
The devastated family sued, but the court decided that pain and suffering damages were available only for the loss of a close (human) family member. Animals are property, the court ruled, so the only compensation available to the family was the fair market value of an 8-year-old mongrel.
In the example above, the same court might have ruled that the dog was a close family member — if the judge had realized that such a ruling would advance justice.
People who care about animals should care about educating judges because judges decide how much protection the law affords animals.
Statutes – the laws “on the books” – are written by legislators. But judges decide what the law means in real life. Their decisions have major consequences, especially when they set a precedent.
Animal law has never been more prominent than it is today. In 2000, only a handful of law schools offered a course on animal law. Today, more than 150 do, and judges are seeing increasing numbers of cases generated by the growing number of lawyers doing this work.
Who will decide how the law applies to animals living with families (more households today have pets than children), to animals in the wild, or animals born and raised for food, entertainment or research?
Judges will decide. And more judges study with The National Judicial College – about 10,000 annually – than with any other educational institution in the United States.
If you care about animals, make a gift to support the NJC’s Animal Law Justice Fund .