So my question is this; what would happen if the courts recognized animals as the sentient beings they are, and what would be the domino effect in the industry? If laws were changed so that animals received compensation for their suffering, how should that money be allocated, in other words, should there be a maximum for the pain and suffering or death an animal incurs from those responsible due to negligence?
The attorneys that I’ve spoken with who are actually working towards solving this issue and lobbying for change say that there are two very distinct problems with companion animals receiving compensation for pain and suffering. First of all there must be a way to define ‘companion animal.’ Dogs and cats immediately come to mind, but many consider their horses companions, as well as some birds, snakes, etc. So I guess it would be easier to define the actual subject as ‘an animal that is kept in the home and treated as a pet, and offers quality companionship and love.’ This differentiates them from ‘livestock.’
The second problem is quantifying the ‘value’ that animal has to his or her owner, and this is indeed the largest hurdle to overcome. As a pet owner there is no amount of money that could have compensated me for Sharkeys’ suffering when she was overdosed. If she had died I would have been devastated. Let’s get to the very heart of this problem overall.
There are very large groups lobbying to keep the laws just as they are for this reason: money. There are those who make pet products that include manufacturing food, toys, beds, equipment, etc, that do NOT want to have to be responsible if something should happen to the animals using their product. Those companies are lobbying very strongly not to change the laws because they don’t want to have to carry insurance to cover litigation. The same holds true for veterinarians and vet hospitals and other entities such as boarding facilities that have care, custody and control of your pets. With no cap in place on the amount for which a client can sue for damages, the cost to these entities and subsequently the consumer would be astronomical, comparable to our own medical system at present.
As difficult as it is to quantify the value of a pet to its owner this must be done. With reasonable caps it’s estimated that the cost per veterinarian customer would be a few cents per visit. Currently people with bigger brains than mine are working with mathematical equations to come up with cap amounts that wouldn’t break the proverbial bank yet still compensate for loss. I think this is a way to keep the pet industry, with all its variable facets, in check.
In closing I would have to say that I’ve never had an issue with a veterinarian. The people that care for my animals have always been stellar human beings with my pets’ best interest in mind. (The pharmacist is another story altogether, anybody so calloused as to state openly that the pain and suffering he inflicted didn’t matter because the animal was still alive needs to find a new job – possibly one in a prison somewhere.) Sharkey, as you can see in the photos in this article, is now happy and healthy and doing good work for children. The bottom line is this, everybody makes mistakes at some time or another, and unfortunately when dealing with those we love, whether human or animal, those mistakes have dire consequences to everybody involved. So if we truly want to change the laws to recognize companion animals as sentient beings we must take a realistic, levelheaded, and evenhanded approach if we plan to make any progress forward.
This article is specific to the pain and suffering of companion animals and their intrinsic value to their human companions and compensation for pain and suffering. It intentionally does not approach the more global issue of animal rights as that is another topic of conversation and one that is dear to my heart due to my experience with puppy mill dogs.