Leonard Angiulo: Evolving Status of Animals in the MA Legal System
Monday, April 28, 2014
A recent case from Suffolk County is a good example. An elderly woman suffering from Dementia had created a significant trust fund to benefit the seven year old aptly named “Puddy Cat.” It is common that animals will be provided for after an owner's death as if they were children. The uncommon, and unfortunate, part of this story is that the two humans responsible for following through with the fiduciary obligations have allegedly misappropriated funds. Since they are not also charged with animal cruelty they presumably fed the animal regularly and maybe even offered a dose or two of catnip along the way. If the allegations are true the defendants may have treated the cat better than they treated the owner.
The need to treat animals well and the intrinsic value of a pet's life don't appear in the State or Federal Constitution, but we seem to instinctively agree with these ideas. Two other recent cases from the Supreme Judicial and Appeals Courts develop these ideas into precedent.
In Commonwealth v. Heather Duncan the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that police may enter homes and yards without a search warrant to protect dogs who may be in danger of physical harm. As background, Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights and the Fourth Amendment to the Federal Constitution restrict government intrusion into private property. The basic principle is that police cannot enter private property without a warrant unless circumstances present one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement. Since the Duncan ruling of April 11, 2014 the emergency exception, allowing police entry if there is an objectively reasonable basis to believe someone inside is injured or in imminent danger of physical harm, now includes animals.
The court's basis for extending this exception to protect “non-human animal life” included citation to various statutes that exhibit a public policy interest in minimizing animal suffering. Where statutory authority has developed to prohibit cruel treatment the court reasoned that trained professionals, who are also government agents, should be granted the authority to provide emergency treatment. Of note is that the court distinguished between an especially strong social interest in avoiding injury to animals inflicted by humans versus injuries caused by non-human sources.
In the context of civil law, the Massachusetts Appeals Court case of Irwin v. Degtiarov affirmed a unique way of calculating damages when it comes to injury to animals. In the Irwin case, a dog's owner filed suit to recover the cost of veterinary bills for surgery required to save the dog's life. The defendant's argument was the cost of surgery exceeded the value of the animal itself and, therefore, plaintiff's damages should have been limited to the replacement value of the dog rather than the price of surgery. Citing common law going back to 1904, the court found that the costs of saving an animal's life can be recovered by a plaintiff and one of the factors used to determine whether the costs incurred are reasonable is whether, or not, the animal in question was part of a household.
The importance of pets in people's lives is easy to see. Ask any owner what they think of their dog or cat and you will most often get a response of devotion and affection that some people won't give to human members of their family. It appears as though the legal protections afforded to those animals is growing.
Related Slideshow: Cats and Dogs Available for Adoption—April 22, 2014
Breed(s): Lab - Retriever Mix
Meet Ray! His foster family says he's one of the best dogs they've ever had! He is perfectly well-behaved and as sweet as the day is long. Ray is estimated to be 2-3 years old and about 55 lbs. He's got the typical thick, jet-black Labrador coat and sweet, outgoing personality - his tail wags in his sleep! Ray loves to give gentle kisses and get belly rubs in return.
Tessa is a shy FIV+ girl whose under a year old. She was found as a stray in Dorchester, but this girl wasn't meant to live on the streets. She's sweet and gets along very well with her foster brother and sisters (cats and a dog). She needs a home whose patient and gives her time to come out of her shell.
Breed(s):American Pit Bull Terrier - Shar Pei Mix
Hello I am Patches, an 8 year old gorgeous girl with so much love to give. I love nothing more than cuddling with my foster mom or foster brothers ( an 8 year old rottie and an 8 year old beagle). I sit very nicely for treats and am very gentle taking one from foster mom's hand. I have no feeding aggression even if one of the other dogs comes to my bowl. I previously lived with a two year old who would take my bones away while I was chewing them so I would just go find another one. I also let her pile her toys on top of me while I was sleeping.
Breed(s): Domestic Shorthair
Sally came to us from Worcester as a shy little gal and has come a long way since then! She has warmed up to our volunteers and is becoming so affectionate and loves to play and roll around! She loves treats and playing with her catnip mouse toy. And we think she'd make the perfect only cat in a loving household.
Breed(s): Pit Bull - Terrier Mix
Meet Karma! She is a very sweet one year old pit bull. Unfortunately Karma has spent most of her life moving from shelter to shelter. All this sweet girl wants is a home of her own. She is doing great in her foster home and loves to take naps on the couch! She has a lot of energy and loves to run, play and go for walks. Karma is going to make a great family pet. All she needs is an adopter to help her with the training she needs to learn her manners. Karma is such a loving girl who is eager to learn! Once you meet her you will just have to make her part of the family!
Breed(s): Domestic Shorthair
Fella is an adult tabby boy who needs a lot of love and attention. He has recently come to us and is pretty nervous and scared of people. He takes a while to warm up, but once he gets to know you, he loves to get petted and have his face rubbed Fella's right eye and nose were scratched before he came to us and they're starting to heal up. The vet says it's not infected, so it just needs a little time and he should be good as new! Fella's new family will need to be patient and wait for him to warm up but they're sure to be rewarded with lots of purring.
Breed(s):Whippet - Chihuahua Mix
Hi I'm Tiny! I am a 4 year old Whippet and Chihuahua mix who weighs about 6 lbs. I am TINY! Can you believe I have even put on some weight since coming into the shelter? They tell me that I need to put on a few more pounds, but I love treats so that shouldn't be a problem. I need a slow introduction to strangers, as I will bark and carry on for a while until I feel safe. After that, I will jump up into your lap and look for attention.
Breed(s): Domestic Shorthair
Sariya is a super sweet 5 year old black and white girl. She's only been with us a short time, but she is such a love! She came to us after her owner passed away and the family could not care for her. She's lived with dogs and cats and did very well. The only thing she loves more than her food is head-butting you for attention.
Breed(s): Pit Bull - Terrier Mix
Hello! I'm Lola, a 2-3 year old bundle of LOVE! My favorite activities are snuggling, getting pats and giving kisses. If you're into this, we're a match made in heaven! I am about 55 lbs, if you're wondering. I'm good with other dogs, having lived with both males and females. And, cats don't seem to bother me. I have been cooped up in a house for quite some time, with no real attention from people, so please forgive my exuberance! I am just SO HAPPY!
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