February 15, 2013

Bill would value pets as companions, not property

Four area legislators cosponsor bill that would allow pet owners to recoup up to $5,000 if their pet is killed by another person or animal

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — In the eyes of the law, your beloved dog or cat is no different than a lamp or a chair, essentially a piece of property.

Four Republicans and one Democratic lawmaker are out to change that.

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz, R-Augusta; House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport; Rep. Gary Knight, R-Livermore Falls and Rep. Henry Beck, D-Waterville, have signed on to a bill sponsored by a northern Maine lawmaker that would allow a pet owner to recoup up to $5,000 if their pet is killed by another person or animal.

The bill would allow those grieving to collect the money “for the loss of the reasonably expected companionship, love and affection of the pet,” according to the text of the bill, L.D. 395.

Law school student and Assistant House Minority Leader Alex Willette, R-Mapleton, is the sponsor of the measure, which is modeled on a Tennessee law.

He said his grandparents, who own a Pomeranian named Priscilla, would be heartbroken if something happened to the dog.

“If my grandmother was out taking Priscilla for a walk and someone were to intentionally kill the dog, she wouldn’t get full value of the dog,” he said. “For a lot of people, pets are just as big a part of their lives as children.”

Katz, an attorney and pet owner, said the bill recognizes the increasingly important role pets play in the emotional lives of their owners.

“The loss to someone from negligent death of the pet goes well beyond the literal cost of the animal,” he said. “It’s just a recognition of the important emotional role our animals play in our lives.”

The bill is headed to the Judiciary Committee for consideration in the coming weeks and is modeled after a Tennessee law passed in 2000. That’s when T-Bo, a 12-year-old Shih Tzu, was killed in his yard by a larger aggressive dog, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund. The dog was owned by state Sen. Steve Cohen, a Democrat, who sponsored the legislation that made Tennessee the first state in the country to allow pet owners to sue for emotional distress damages.

Susan Cover — 621-5643

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