Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Pets R (most of) Us!

Now then, I’ve gotten your attention with cuteness overload--well at least 60% of you.  Approximately 60% of Americans own pets, and most of those pet-owners are dog owners.  And while many of us pet owners frown on the use of the word “own” since our pets are actually our beloved family members, I intended to use ‘own’ in the truest legal sense of the word.  Come to VBA’s Pet Law Day on September 30, 2016 in S. Burlington and you will see how a dog compares, in the eyes of the law, to, say, a couch! 

There have been several pet-related cases that have made it to the Vermont Supreme Court, a few of which will be discussed at our Pet Law Day.  But what about the couch?  Well, despite that many studies have shown that pets can reduce obesity, increase happiness and reduce stress in their owners, they are simply, legally, personal property. Though many have tried, there cannot be a custody arrangement for a family pet in Vermont.  Not only can pets not be subject to an order of custody, they also, unlike humans, can instead be subject to a “finders-keepers” ruling like a couch on a street corner. But unlike a couch, dogs escape and can bite either each other or humans.   Also, unlike a couch, you cannot leave them in a hot car or otherwise mistreat them.  Sound complicated?  It is!  We will explore these issues and more, including pet trusts, at Pet Law Day on September 30, so register TODAY! 

Pet laws are complex and the industry is robust. Spending on pets in the US has grown rapidly over the last decade.  It is estimated that Americans spent approximately $60 Billion on pets in 2015, which is slightly more than we spent on clothing, handbags, makeup and shoes combined.  This spending also edged out what was spent on childcare by over $10 Billion.  More troublesome, perhaps for the ridiculed pet and most certainly for those living in poverty with legal needs, Americans spent approximately $350 Million on Halloween costumes for their pets in 2015, which is over 90% of the entire Legal Services Corporation funding for the same year to fund Legal Aid.  Saving the priorities discussion for another day, pets are undoubtedly a major factor in the lives and the spending of Americans.

As the industry grows, so does the case law addressing situations relating to animals.  Our Lawyer Referral Service receives calls monthly related to pet theft, custody, bites and the like.  Just this week we received a call involving a pet that was kept in one home at the end of the child’s visitation, against the other parent’s wishes, with no agreement or order in place addressing the former family’s pet.  Just yesterday, there was a dog death and vehicle break-in for a dog left in a hot car in Colchester. We receive so many calls that we are adding an Animal Law category to our Lawyer Referral Service.  Want to be added to our LRS Animal Law category?  If you are already a registered LRS attorney, email Devlin at dnicholls@vtbar.org to add this category.  If you are not a VBA Lawyer Referral Service attorney, why not?!  Register HERE and perhaps the next Vermont Supreme Court animal case could be yours!