It’s a dog’s life

Apparently there is a booming industry for lawyers in the US who represent animals, particularly in the context of relationship breakdown and estate planning. As the Legal Soapbox commented the other day, a US property development mogul left a substantially larger bequest for her dog than she left for any of her human relatives. And pet custody disputes are increasingly common. According to the article above, vets are called on to say which “parent” the dog prefers.

It is true that dogs often have preferences for one partner over the other. My family dog loves, loves, loves my mother. He honours my father (whom he regards as “top dog”) but he cries when my mother leaves the room to go to the toilet (yes, separation anxiety issues).

The article raises interesting issues. Pets are incredibly important. Before we got our family dog, I never quite understood (yeah, we had three fish and budgie and two hamsters, but they weren’t quite the same). I love our dog, and he has been supportive to me in some hard times. Seriously! He always knows when you are sad and tries to comfort you. When our family friend’s marriage broke down, and she came over to our house and began to cry, the dog immediately got on her lap, whimpered and tried to lick the tears away. He is a bit of a psycho (he’s a Jack Russell – concentrate of dog) but he is a very sensitive soul. The important thing, I suppose, is that he loves you unconditionally.

But…what happens when pets start getting more rights (and better paid legal representation) than some people? I’ve always felt slightly squeamish about those ads for pet food for “picky” pets, just because I’m sure that there’s many people in the world who get food of a lesser quality, and some people who are starving. Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs, cats and all animals, but the concept of gourmet pet food just strikes me as over-the-top, when many people don’t have the luxury of clean water and food at all. So what happens when a dog has a top attorney but an inmate on death row can only get a legal aid attorney? Or, in a less extreme example, a person without assets gets ripped off by a company but can’t do anything about it because he can’t afford legal representation, but the guy next door has a relationship breakdown and his pet gets legal representation? It’s all about whether animals are equivalent to humans. Of course, in one sense we are all animals; but should animals such as dogs get the privilege of a lawyer when some human beings don’t get those privileges?



Filed under animals, courts, human rights, law, morality, society

6 responses to “It’s a dog’s life

  1. pete m

    “So what happens when a dog has a top attorney but an inmate on death row can only get a legal aid attorney? ”

    oh oh … packet of worms in that sentence!


    I argued quite often with female colleagues who have dogs and hold them in higher esteem and value than fellow human beings. Could never win ;(

    re corporations – great documentary called “corporation” – haven’t seen it but riveting reviews on the unchecked power of them.

  2. laura

    i appreciate your sentiment, but it’s a bit of an artificial dichotomy . . . not much more logical than the ‘you must finish your sprouts if you want to help the starving children in africa’ school of thought. i’d much rather spend a little bit extra so my cat can eat food of identifiable origin. i’m not convinced the world would be a better place if i didn’t.

  3. Laura, fair enough to give your pet quality food. I wasn’t questioning that. We don’t give the family dog the cheapest brand of dog food either; we get him a decent brand with identifiable origins. We want him to be healthy and happy, and if we have to spend a little extra to do that, I think it’s fair enough.

    However, it’s really a question of degree. What about pets that are given gourmet food cooked by expert chefs? Pets that have diamond collars? Pets that wear Gucci? I tend to find that disgusting. Dogs don’t need diamond collars to be healthy and happy.

    The specific question here is about pets who are represented by lawyers, and some humans whose lives may hang in the balance are not represented in our legal system. What then? What is the priority?

  4. Persuasive, to a point, however I would turn this back and say ‘what of all the abuse of the legal system by large corporations and absurdly rich morons who use it as a tactical plaything, while others have no access to justice’?

    Lawyers for pets does sound ridiculous to me, but perhaps no more so than channel 7 spending 20,000 a day to bring Jonathan Sumption over to argue a losing battle over football rights- a useless issue of no relevance to the common person, just one man’s astonishing ego (Stokes, not the relatively humble if brilliant Sumption).

  5. To put it another way I am saying there’s an analogy between this issue and the more general question of whether we give to ‘each according to his/her need’, or allow the wealthy few to indulge every whim while others, even in our own country, go without the basics.

  6. Armagnac, I guess your question is at the root of my query. In our present system, the quality of one’s experience of the legal system is often (not always) directly proportional to the amount of money one has to spend. So some millionaire can throw money at a top QC on a stupid matter (pets, or whatever), and some guy can languish in gaol on a charge of which he is innocent because of a lack of decent defence counsel.

    It seemed at the outset like the Channel 7 litigation was one of those cases where Stokes believed what he wanted to believe, and was determined to bring the action regardless, because he was convinced he was right. He’d be a vexatious litigant…if he didn’t have so much money…

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