Sunday, May 13, 2007
A Horse is a Horse?
Does the term "close family members" include pets?
Of course it does -- just ask Toby the Talking Horse, or your nearest plaintiff's lawyer. Apparently animal rights activists and trial lawyers are trying to get damages for "emotional distress" suffered by pet owners who lost their furry companions due to the tainted pet food scandal.
The problem is that "emotional distress" damages are usually limited to those who suffer the loss of a "close family member" -- hence the move to redefine pets as being on the same level as brothers and sisters (of course, they're superior).
Strictly speaking, the law classifies pets as chattels, which is why one can buy and sell dogs, but not siblings. But the animal rights movement has inspired a linguistic revolution as well: cities such as Berkeley and West Hollywood in California; Boulder, Colorado; and Amherst, Massachusetts have abolished the term "pet owners" and now refer to such people as "guardians."
For more on the status of animals in law (and legal language) see my December 2004 Column, Legal Beagles.