Legal view on pets is actually changing…slowly

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Historically, the law has taken a pragmatic view of animals. Legally they’re not viewed as pets or companions or family members. Legally, animals are property. That’s all. Nothing more, nothing less.

This archaic philosophy — for lack of a better word — is still reflected in Connecticut law. As the Connecticut Humane Society notes, the state’s legal definition of animals includes “all brute creatures and birds.” Under CGS §53-247(a), criminal activity includes “overdriving, overloading, overworking, torturing, depriving of substance, mutilating, cruelly beating or killing, or unjustifiably injuring any animal.”

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In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

Judging by the language quoted above, the law can be traced to a time when most animals were literally “beasts of burden.” Fortunately a lot has changed since then. And the law is finally changing, too.

I’ve often blogged about one of the most significant developments — a law that permits the appointment of special advocates for animals in some cases. The law took effect here earlier this month.

As New London, CT, attorney Kean Zimmerman recently told The Connecticut Law Tribune, the passage of “Desmond’s Law” is a significant step in the right direction. But it’s just the beginning.

“Connecticut laws have not made the leap to consider pets more than property, but slowly judges and legislators are seemingly beginning to acknowledge the many intrinsic values pets have. This is especially true when it comes to a dissolution in which the ‘property’ cannot be divided,” Zimmerman said.

Meanwhile, divorce lawyers find themselves in search of creative solutions in cases where the parties don’t agree on what to do with the family pet(s).

“I’ve had parties agree that the family dog would go back and forth with the kids. I’ve had parties agree on financial contributions for the care of a pet,” New Haven attorney Renee Bauer told the Tribune.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund also offers tips for divorcing couples at odds over the family pet.

“Since animals are considered property in the eyes of the law, it may be helpful to offer proof that you were the one who adopted the animal, or if the animal was purchased, that you were the one who purchased the animal,” the organization recommends.

The person didn’t adopt or purchase the animal may still be able to show that he or she should continue to care for the animal, according to the ALDF. Relevant proof may include:

  • Receipts for veterinary care, licensing records.
  • Receipts for grooming, dog training classes, food, and other items purchased for the companion animal.

“If your neighbors saw that you were always the one who walked your dog or took him/her to the park, they may be useful witnesses who can confirm your consistent interaction with the animal and therefore be helpful to your case.”

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