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The VT Supreme Court Asks: Is Your Pet a "Companion" or a "Thing"?


Published January 22, 2010 at 11:03 a.m.

The question, "Is your dog or cat more like your child than your toaster?" seems like a no-brainer to most pet owners. We buy them their own toys, clothes and bedding, feed them top-shelf vittles made from choice cuts of meat and endangered seafood, and provide them with expensive daycare, health insurance and medical services that would be the envy of most human residents of the developing world. We put framed pictures of them on our desktops, brag about their achievements, cringe when they misbehave in public, laugh at their antics, kiss them goodnight and then grieve for weeks, months or even years after they die. 

However, state law had typically taken a much less warm-and-fuzzy approach to those four-legged critters who leave dead birds on our pillows and graze on the crunchy nuggets in the litter box. In the eyes of the law, Bailey, Buttons, Nibbles and Napoleon are no more considered "companions" than your DVD player or waffle iron. And as such, when they're taken from their "owners" due to negligence or malice, you cannot be compensated for your loss much beyond your expenses in acquiring, caring for and disposing of them.

But that could soon change. A case currently before the Vermont Supreme Court will consider whether a couple whose dog was shot and killed by a neighbor are eligible for monetary compensation for "loss of companionship" similar to what's available to the parents or grandparents of a child who is killed. 

Interested in the legal arguments pro and con? Check out this article on FindLaw by Cornell Law School Professor Sherry Colb.

Photo: "Sydney" by Robert Fahey of Stowe, winner of the 2009 Seven Days Best of the Beasts Pet Photo Contest.