Felony anticruelty laws in all 50 states impose up to $125,000 in fines and 10 years in prison for anyone who abuses animals. The federal Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, passed after Hurricane Katrina, requires rescue agencies to save pets as well as people during natural disasters. Judges have been increasingly willing to treat cats and dogs like people in the courtroom, allowing custody disputes over pets and granting large awards in cases like Ms. Lohre's—including so-called noneconomic damages typically reserved for the death of a spouse or a child. In a few recent court cases, judges even gave dogs their own lawyers.
But not everyone is cheering. Cleaners, groomers and dog walkers have been hit with large lawsuits when harm has come to family pets. And veterinarians have been particularly spooked by the rising legal status of cats and dogs.
In 2004, a Los Angeles man won a $39,000 veterinary malpractice verdict for the death of his Labrador mix. The American Veterinary Medical Association warned that "personhood" for pets could flood the courts, drive vets out of business and ultimately harm dogs and cats by making veterinary services prohibitively expensive.Grimm goes on to describe how personhood worries may spill over to non-pet animals like "livestock and lab rats," and that veterinarians are worried about a slippery slope in this direction. As far as livestock are concerned, I would expect that any push to give rights to animals commonly raised for consumption would be met with resistance from both the public, lobbyists, and existing federal laws that permit and regulate the treatment and slaughter of these animals.
But the essay sheds light on an interesting issue that I had not previously considered. It will be interesting to see if the trend toward more malpractice lawsuits in the veterinarian world continues, and how this might affect the overall industry.