Most of us would consider our pets an important part of our family. We provide for them, care for them, and spend upwards to $60 billion a year on our pets. If asked to put a price tag on our furry friends, most of us would be hard pressed to answer that question. It seems impossible to quantify the love, support, and company provided by our pets.
The law, however, doesn’t see our pets the same way we do. According to law, pets are property. No different than any other item in your household.
These two views have come to a clash in a recent case that has reached the Supreme Court in Georgia and may reach verdict in the next month. The court is considering whether a couple can recoup some of the $67,000 in medical expenses in an attempt to save a their rescue dog, the costs, they claim, which resulted because of negligence from a boarding kennel
The question comes down to this- is your dog merely property, something with a resale value based on cost, or is its value something more subjective because of his place in your home?
How much is your pet worth?
In this case, the dog was Lola, an 8 year old dachshund, a shelter dog adopted by Elizabeth and Bob Monyak. During a family trip, the Monyaks boarded Lola and their other dog, Callie, at The Inn, an Atlanta kennel. Because Callie had arthritis, the Monyaks left specific dosing instructions for her medication, Rimadyl.
According to an interview, when the Monyaks arrived to pick up their dogs, Lola had unusual symptoms, including loss of appetite and trembling. Their veterinarian diagnosed Lola with acute renal failure, and determined it was caused by an overdose of Rimadyl. The Monyaks spent the following nine months and $67,000 in attempt to reverse the damage caused by the Rimadyl, and after many dialysis treatments and other veterinarian treatments, Lola died. The family sued the kennel, and claim the employees incorrectly gave Lola the medication intended for Callie.
The question now brought before the court is not whether the kennel is liable, but what is the amount that can be recovered. According to current law, the value of a pet is like any other household item- it’s based on resale value. A adopted shelter dog, therefore, is worth nothing. However the Monyaks want to argue that the value is at least the $67,000 spent on her treatment in addition to the love and care from the family.
“Our position is a dog is not fungible. It’s not like you throw it in the trash can and get another dog,” Elizabeth Monyak said. “We didn’t want another 8-year-old dachshund. We wanted Lola.”
Some courts make allowances for “reasonable costs” and other states allow owners to receive payment based on companionship. But, “reasonable costs” is a murky category left up to interpretation- and many juries may see the money spent by the Monyaks as not reasonable. However, in front of a jury of animal lovers, they may disagree. Some would argue that the value of the pet exceeds any monetary cost applied.
According to the Washington Post, “Barking Hound Village’s lawyer, Joel McKie, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the kennel was “sympathetic” to the Monyaks but said the company was not at fault. In its brief, the company summed up its view of Lola like this: She was free, she never generated revenue, and the Monyaks didn’t do anything that increased her value to the public.”
In short, because she didn’t cost anything to acquire, she was worth nothing.
The Monyaks (and most pet owners) would disagree.
Photo of Lola, property of the Monyak family