A Pinellas veterinarian continues his quest to change an ancient legal principal still embedded in Florida law. Dr. Kenneth Newman has even self-published a book to promote "Gracie's Law", proposed legislation that would legally recognize the special value of pets and permit up to $25,000 compensation for losses or damages.
His motivation stems from an accident that injured him and killed his dog named Gracie.
"As I bent over to lift Gracie into the back of our station wagon, a lady backed up 25 yards without looking, crushing Gracie and I between the rear of her car and the rear of our station wagon," Newman recalled Wednesday.
He was eventually compensated for his injuries, but his companion animal was valued the same as used furniture: replacement value, with no acknowledgement of the emotional severing of a human-animal bond.
"There is a disconnect in the law between the way we feel about our pets and the way they're classified legally," Newman said.
Stetson University College of Law Professor Peter Lanston Fitzgerald confirmed the long-standing legal precedent.
"In our society animals are property...That goes back to the beginning of law and time -- you can think of the king owning everything in the forest. So this is a deeply engrained principal of our legal system," Lanston said.
Fitzgerald said two states now have laws similar to "Gracie's Law", and the notion of special value has been acknowledged in one case in the United Kingdom. Legal scholars are voicing the need for change.
"We should evolve beyond, in a legal sense, a binary system where something is either property or not property, and start to realize that there are different categories, different types of property," Fitzgerald said. The professor said the case for valuing pets is helped by new scientific documentation of the human-animal bond.
Newman is now well-studied on the subject and claims his legislation faces surprising opponents: veterinarian medicine, pet food manufacturers and the pharmaceutical industry. It is a multi-billion dollar industry, now unencumbered by the threat of legal exposures.
"All of these powerful organizations want pets to remain property and yet they all exist because pets are not property in the minds of the people who own them," Newman said.
The veterinarian, who practices in Seminole, said for the second year in a row he has approached every Florida lawmaker, looking for a sponsor for Gracie's Law. "So far no takers," he said, then encouraged pet owners to hound their state representatives and senators to change Florida law.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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