Question: Why shouldn’t animals be considered “property” under the law?

In most cases, you have a legal right to destroy your own property. If someone decides to chop up their kitchen table and use it for firewood, that is their legal right. But if someone abuses or neglects an animal, they should be criminally prosecuted.

Animals should not be considered property under the law because unlike inanimate objects, they are sentient beings with their own lives and interests. Although criminal statutes already prohibit animal cruelty, there are other reasons to recognize that animals should not be considered property under the law.

For example, in divorce situations, the individuals may want to arrange visitation with the animals. If a dispute ever arose over the visitation arrangement, a judge could easily invalidate the provision if the animal is just a piece of property. People do not arrange visitation with their old kitchen tables. But as the law begins to recognize that animals are not property, more animal visitation agreements may be upheld and enforced in the future.

In a situation where someone intentionally or negligently kills your companion animal, a court may award "fair market value" for the destruction of your property, which may be $50, $25 or less. It does not matter that your animal is a unique and treasured family member. Even if your animal is a purebred, if your animal is a mere piece of property, the court may decide that the fair market value of your animal is only a couple hundred dollars. These amounts do not deter crimes or negligence.

Most Americans consider their animals to be part of the family, so changing the property status of animals would update the law to reflect societal values.

By Doris Lin,
The information on this website is not legal advice and is not a substitute for legal advice. For legal advice, please consult an attorney.

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