The Legal Rights of Our Furry Friends

Scartelli Olszewski P.C.

More and more, pets are becoming involved in their owners’ legal battles, or they are the focus of the battle itself. The big question is what rights do these animals have in the eyes of the law?Traditionally, pets have been considered property. The one Constitutional right that comes along with property is the preventative measure against unlawful searches and seizures. This may be the only perk attached to the consideration of pets as property. If a law enforcement agency or animal protection agency arrives to take away an animal, one has the right for a court order or warrant to be produced before handing over their animal. Also, multiple courts have upheld wrongful shootings of dogs as a Fourth Amendment violation, because it is considered destruction of property. However, the line between property and person is becoming increasingly blurred when it comes to our beloved companions. Now more than ever, pets are considered part of our families. As such, the rights of our family members have started spilling into the rights of our pets. Some owners are now suing for mental suffering or loss of companionship when a pet is killed. Traditionally, these grievances had applied only to spouses or children. There also are an increasing number of animal custody cases being brought forth. Many of these cases show the delicate hold that animals have between property rights and human rights. One appeals case overturned a decision based solely on property rights for custody of a cat in favor of the defendant because the cat had, “lived, prospered, loved and been loved” by the defendant for a significant amount of time. The happiness and general welfare of the animal is being considered over simple property rights. Support and responsibility of an animal holds much more weight than who has the physical license or who purchased the animal. In a Supreme Court case in Alaska, a husband was granted sole custody of the family Labrador because the wife’s other dog had threatened the Labrador’s life. Animal custody cases are now beginning to less like property disputes and more like child custody cases. One right that animals seem to have maintained in our society is the right to be free from cruelty. Almost all states have laws banning animal cruelty, some even include neglect and mistreatment as is the case for Pennsylvania. Recently, many states have added laws regarding forced animal fighting, cruel transportation of animals, and abandonment. Courts have also begun addressing the position of animals in domestic abuse situations. Some victims of abuse do not want to leave the household for fear of leaving a pet alone with the abuser. In order to combat this, some policies have been put in place that will require officers to remove an animal from the premises when removing the victim. Animals are also being included in restraining orders with increasing acceptance from the court system. While animals continue to gain more rights in the eyes of the law, some people are pushing back against this trend. Some ask where will this slippery slope stop and if we will soon be banned from spaying and neutering animals against their will or buying and selling them? Others say allowing animals to possess human rights undermines what it means to be human. While that may be taking this issue to an extreme, there has been a surge in movements for animal rights that cannot be ignored by the legal system. There are many potential outcomes to animals being seen more like people than property in the eyes of the law. If you want to know what legal recourse you may have regarding your furry companions, please contact the legal team at Scartelli Olszewski, P.C. Our knowledge and experience means that we can guide you to the right course of action for all parties involved.