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?