Lawsuit raises questions about the legal status of pets - FOX 13 News

Lawsuit raises questions about the legal status of pets

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A St. Petersburg attorney is following through with his threat to sue the city of St. Petersburg over last year's killing of his dog. To succeed, he has to convince Florida courts to change a basic premise of common law.

"What the change is, is that we recognize that our companion pets are members of the family and not simply property," attorney Roy Glass told FOX 13 News.

Boomer, a 12-year old Golden Retriever, was shot and killed October 2, 2011 by a St. Petersburg Police officer. Boomer had escaped from his yard and was blocking the front door of a house about a block away. At the time, the police department said the officer was attempting to entice the dog into the back seat of her cruiser when he suddenly turned on her, forcing her to shoot him.

The wounds were not fatal, and witnesses described Boomer's demise as slow and agonizing.

The next month, Glass, Boomer's master, served notice on the city of his claim for damages. Glass told FOX 13 News the city made an offer to settle that he described as "too low." In a petition to be filed in state court this week, Glass refers to several scientific studies on the relationships between humans and their pets, then alleges the examples "...demonstrate that the bond between a companion animal and a human animal is real and capable of empirical study and analysis. In addition, the human-animal bond is recognized to have financial business implications, as well as personal emotional influence."

That argument goes to the heart of Glass's claim: That he and his family should be compensated for the grief suffered by Boomer's death. Although the petition claims damages exceed $15,000, Glass said a jury would decide any specific damages.

"When you see another golden retriever, it brings back memories. I mean, they all look very similar. So, it's true grief and it's true mental pain and suffering," Glass said. "There's lots of damages in the law that aren't subject to mathematical computation. For example, mental pain and suffering and grief -- that's up to the jury to determine, there's no mathematical calculation for that."

The attorney admits the first step is convincing a district court that the death of a dog is a "cause for action" under Florida law. Glass predicts an appeal to higher courts, regardless of the ruling on that issue. That part of the dispute has to be decided before consideration can be given to whether the shooting was justified.

Jennifer Dietz, a Tampa Attorney who specializes in animal law, said she thought Glass put forth a solid argument in his lawsuit.

"What he laid out in his complaint was a very well-thought out argument that this was not just a dog, but this was a member of the family," Dietz said.

But the courts don't see it that way. Under Florida law, family pets are considered property, no different than the living room couch.

"You have the same rights and they have the same rights as a piece of furniture, like a chair. So, it's not fair that if something happens to your animal all you get is the fair market value, which if it came from the humane society, would be $25." Dietz says.

Glass and his family hope their lawsuit will change that.

"The bond between the family and the companion pet, it's equivalent to the loss of a human family member," Glass said.

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