Cruel and Unusual Cruelty
As believe I make clear I don't much care for this lawsuit, but then I don't much care for most lawsuits.
That said, I have nothing against such suits being brought against people who intentionally and maliciously harm animals specifically to cause pain and suffering to their owners. (Like the ex-husband who kills his ex-wife's beloved cat to get even with her for leaving him.)
Few jurisdictions legally recognize the "pain and suffering" of pet owners when and if their pets have been intentionally harmed or killed.
Legally speaking, pets are considered personal property, no different than a waffle iron. If somebody steals or destroys your waffle iron you can recover the value of it but you can't sue for the pain and suffering of losing it. (Or you can but you won't win.)
Clearly though the emotional connection most people have toward their pets deserves some amount of legal respect.
I would be very supportive of a law that allowed pet owners to recover not only punitive damages for the malicious and deliberate killing of their pets but also awarded them dollar amounts for pain and suffering.
The key word here is "malicious." Mere negligence (running a red-light and hitting a dog) should not, in my view, be actionable.
What the SPCA workers did in the Whiskers case doesn't fall into the category of maliciousness.
The SPCA humanely puts hundreds of stray cats down a year in the course of doing business. What happened here was just plain stupid and negligent. While the cover-up was technically criminal, it was done to protect the guilty not to intentionally wound the cat owners.
While I don't believe in animal rights, I do believe in human rights and responsibilities. Human beings, to be worthy of the title, should never gratuitously or maliciously hurt lesser creatures. When they do they should be punished for it. And more severely than they are today under current criminal law.
For more on the case law concerning this sort of thing click here.
UPDATE: I just got this e-mail on today's column:
Your article was right on! We adopted a dog on December 24th and when we took him to our vet. He found a lump that had to be removed. The SPCA paid for the procedure without question. We now have a beautiful, healthy six-year-old Labarottie
I am sorry about Whiskers and maybe a couple hundred in compensation is ok. Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water.
Maureen and Kevin Ferry (Max too!!)
UPDATE II: And this e-mail from Mike Wallen, the neighbor who called the cops on Whiskers. He's not nearly as crazy as I made him sound.
I'd like to set the record straight about how Whiskers ended up at the SPCA. It was a Friday night and it 20 degrees outside. My next door neighbor called to tell me something was in our bushes and making loud noises. I went outside and listened and it was a cat making these loud moaning noises. I thought it was in labor. I could'nt get it out because it seemed to be wedged in the bushes.
You should understand that the only way to get your local police officer to come to your house is call 911 and tell them it's a non emergency. You can't call your local police any more. The Ridley Park officer came out to the house about 20 minutes later. At that point the cat had come out of the bushes and was on my other next door neighbors doorstep. The cat was still making those noises but it must have been because it was cold and scared. The officer called animal control. He asked if I had a box to put the cat in while we waited for animal control. I put the cat in a box with an old pair of jeans to keep it warm and put it on my back deck. The officer left at that point. The cat seemed harmless enough and my neighbor was even petting it while we waited. We did'nt know the owners of the cat. They were living in a house two doors down on the street behind us about 150 yards away. When animal control showed up about 30 minutes later she transferred the cat into a cage. I asked her where the cat was going in case someone came around looking for it the next day. She said the SPCA. I asked her how long they hold the cats before they euthanized them and she said 72 hours. The next day was a saturday and we had snow all day. On Sunday we were out front shoveling the driveway and I noticed a couple kids going from door to door putting something in the doors. I yelled over are you looking for a cat? They said yes and we looked at the picture they had on their flier and said that the cat was at the SPCA. They kept going down the street putting fliers in the doors and we asked them why and they said just in case it's not the same cat.
That's about it from my perspective. It was the police that called Animal Control not us. Weeks later the lady that lost the cat came to our house and gave my wife a thank you card for trying to help her cat.