Owner of Mauled Malti-Poo Not Granted Compensation for Emotional Trauma

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Joyce McDougall's was walking her 9-year-old Maltese-poodle mix through their Morris Plains, NJ neighborhood in 2007 when a much larger mixed breed attacked and killed the tiny dog named Angel. McDougall sued Charlot Lamm, the other dog's owner, for compensatory damages and for the emotional distress she says she suffered from seeing her pet killed violently. The other dog has since been euthanized.

More than Mere Property

Ms. McDougall argued that courts should consider pets as more than just property because they have achieved an elevated status in society as companions in the lives of human beings. She states that her dog was a constant companion, particularly after she and her husband divorced, and their three children grew up and moved out.

But the New Jersey Supreme Court decided McDougall was only entitled to $5,000 to replace her well-trained dog, which is at least four times what one would cost. "Although we recognize that many people form close bonds with their pets, we conclude that those bonds do not rise to the level of a close familial relationship or intimate, marital-like bond," Justice Helen Hoens wrote in response to the case.

New Jersey's Inconsistent Rules

Let's not forget that this is the state that requires animals to be restrained in cars or face up to a $1,000 fine and a disorderly conduct offense under animal-cruelty laws. Failure to restrain a child only nets a $46 fine. So it does make one wonder how much the state values animals as companions (or people) or views them as potential revenue generators.

Courts in Florida, Hawaii and Louisiana have granted compensation for emotional distress stemming from the death of a pet.  Illinois and Tennessee have passed laws allowing pet owners to recover damages for emotional distress.

What do you think about the NJ Supreme Court's decision?

For more information, see NJ.com.

Maltipoo photo courtesy of tsmithucalgary.

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Brenda on August 1 at 12:18 PM said:

Sue the bastards ....sounds like the laws concerning babies needs to be redone! Pets are very much our furry children and I can't imagine what she is going through. I own a small dog and that is my worst nightmare. I now carry mase whenever we go for a walk. B
Joyce on August 1 at 2:02 PM said:

I have 2 grown adult children. If I had known how much love & joy I receive from my precious baby dog, I never would have had kids"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I love her more than anything (she is my child).
Heather F on August 1 at 4:17 PM said:

It's such a multi-leveled topic and trust me, I have 3 babies and they are MY LIFE. The issue is if we give pets more elevated status similar to a human, than eventually vets would have to carry malpractice insurance. It would breed a whole new crop of attorneys. This would send our pet's healthcare costs through the roof as if they aren't high enough. So many topics would need to be considered when granting our babies a higher status and I don't have the answer.
CM on August 1 at 5:02 PM said:

"bonds do not rise to the level of a close familial relationship or intimate, marital-like bond" - this is so untrue!! I can say I have developed such a deep and close bond with my dog (which I call my baby) that I never had with any other human being. My 10lbs dog got attacked by a bigger dog a couple of months back and it is one of the scariest things I have ever experience. He got some wounds from that incident but thankfully it was not serious enough to take his life. I now carry pepper spray whenever I walk my dog because I am seriously traumatized by that incident. I cannot imagine what this owner must have gone through (or still be going through right now) as a result of watching her dog get mauled by another. Too tragic and too traumatizing.
Hank Wershaw on August 1 at 5:02 PM said:

WHAT DOES MONEY COMPENSATION DO..IT DOESN'T REPLACE THE DOG..THIS IS JUST A BUNCH OF CRAP TO PUT MORE MONEY IN LAWYERS'POCKETS.
Phyllis on August 1 at 7:10 PM said:

PROPERTY!!!!!!!!!! They certainly don't own ANY animals!!! I have three little rescue dogs who are my children.....I have three cats that are also my children......how dare they expect to get away with trying to say they are PROPERTY!!!! CALLUS, LACK OF COMPASSION AND UNFORTUNATELY...LACK OF KNOWING WHAT IT IS TO LOVE THESE HELPLESS ANIMALS. (I also have three sons and a grandaughter...but my furry family are my children too!).
Anna on August 3 at 10:43 AM said:

I think she should have been compensated for emotional distress. My dog is my child, my husband and I can not have children so we adopt dogs, care for them and love them as they were our children. Thank god I live in KY where if this would have happened I could have humanely killed the offending pooch and saved my dog with no legal repurcussions. I would hate to do such a thing but I'm going to protect my pooch!! My husband has even checked this with our County Sheriff and a dog is considered property just as your car, home or tools and you can protect your property as necessary in KY. I wish all dog owners were responsible with their pets, but since some are neglegent I think they should have to pay fines, restitution, and for mental/emotional distress if you have to watch your pet be killed.
Karen Jacobs on August 5 at 11:09 AM said:

I think Justice Helen Hoens does not have a pet.
MARIANNE BARNES on August 13 at 9:53 AM said:

I ALSO OWN A LITTLE MALTESE AND HAVE 3 CATS WHO MY HUSBAND AND I CONSIDER OUR BABIES. AS A COUPLE THAT COULD NOT HAVE "HUMAN" CHILDREN THESE ARE OUR CHILDREN AND WE LOVE THEM DEARLY. i CANNOT IMAGINE LOSING ANY ONE OF THEM TO A CARELESS DOG OWNER.IT'S THE OWNER THAT IS AT FAULT, NOT THE DOG!
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