- 1. Pet Custody, by Emily J. Kelly
When couples face divorce or legal separation, they must divide many assets, finances, property and belongings. Among these assets are the family pets. People commonly hear of disputes over child custody or visitation, but for some couples, custody of pets may be just as emotionally consuming. Pets are often treated like children by the individuals and the couples will not consider ownership of the family pet as part of a property settlement agreement. Disputes arise over custody and visitation and courts have been lenient in their control over such disagreements.
Under the current law, there is no remedy for couples who want custody or visitation of their pets. Even if a couple agrees to a visitation schedule, Judges do not have the authority to uphold it in the court of law and incorporate it into the couples divorce decree. Companion animals are considered a part of marital property. That makes it difficult for a court to determine how to provide a resolution. The court must view the pet as property and the best interests of property cannot be determined. This leaves the decision to the couple. If the couple cannot make the decision, the court often views the family pet as property. This limitation gives the court few options, such as giving the pet to one of the spouses, giving the other spouse the monetary value of the pet or selling the pet and dividing the proceeds between the couple.
Alternatively, there are anti-cruelty laws that some courts may use as authority in determining which spouse gets ownership of the family pet. In those instances, the court may consider the best interests of the pet. These courts seem to take into account the emotional aspect of pet custody. Pet owners spend a large amount of money on their family pets and often regard them as children. Some courts are beginning to consider this trend when applying the law and making their determination. However, this view is in the minority. Most courts will not extend the best interest’s standard to animals. Therefore, the majority of the courts are still relying on property law when deciding the custody of a companion animal.
Unfortunately, when courts look to property law when determining pet custody, valuation may be an issue. When dividing property between divorcing couples, the property’s value must be determined and distributed equitably. Therefore, if the family pet was acquired sometime during the marriage, its fair market value must be determined. This does not take into account the companionship, relationship with the couple or any sentimental value of the animal. As a result, many animal rights groups are pressing for the courts and legislatures to consider companion animals as more than personal property and for the laws and treatment in the courts to reflect that change. Their argument is that pets may be less than human, but they are living beings that cannot speak up for themselves or their rights, they respond to love and also experience trauma when abused. For these reasons, pets must be protected and the courts must apply a “best interests of the pet” standard when determining pet custody. This argument is not currently reflected by law or in most courts; however it has a growing body of supporters and advocates that may change how pet custody is treated by the courts in the future.
2. Pet custody: the new frontier in family law
By Roza Gossage, Belleville
If we had been practicing family law for more than a few years, we all have had the issue of who gets the dog, cat or bird in the divorce.
I have in fact had a case where the other side asked for visitation of an African parrot after the court awarded the parrot to my client.
While at first glance you may smirk and chuckle regarding litigation concerning a pet, you should look back at the developments of the law and trends in our society.
Decades past, there was very little litigation over who gets custody of a minor child or litigation involving the best interest of a child. However, as society advanced, the child was recognized as an independent person who had rights and interests. The courts then appointed GAL and then attorney and now can appoint a child representative.
After reviewing the progression of the status of a child in a divorce case, how can you not say that somewhere in the future the society in the United States and court will not raise the status of a pet’s rights to that of the child or close thereto.
The animal rights groups have protested testing on animals and wearing of fur and eating meat. There have been international conferences on animal rights and most recently a law professor from Ireland spoke to a group in Chicago on animal rights.
Who cannot say that the custody of the pet issues will not rise to a best interest standards as we now have with a child.
We will have animal behavior testing, pet support, visitation, splitting of the veterinary bills, and clauses in the settlement agreement relating to the “pick of the litter” and even exchange of visitation at the “visitation exchange kennel.”
Switzerland had taken the issue of pet rights so seriously that a referendum had been proposed to give pets similar legal rights to those of children in divorce cases and custody of the pet would be awarded on the pets’ best interest.
There will have to be a new section under IMDMA: Pet Custody/Visitation. Guidelines for support will have to be implemented as well as standards for award of custody, visitation and an equivalent of psychological evaluations, completed by animal behavioral or animal psychologists. Exchange kennels will be established and standards implemented for a court to determine custody.
No longer will a judge, as one in Ottawa, Illinois has done in the past, have the two parties stand at one end of the room and call for the dog, awarding custody to the party to whom the dog went.
To go one step further, there may be a specialty in the field of family law of attorneys who handle “pet custody cases.”
The issue and litigation over pet custody has gone so far that a Virginia woman, Jennifer Kidnell, had launched the petcustody.com website.
When you visit the site, you can purchase addendums to separation or divorce for parties who have animal companions (formally known as “pets”), which parties are encouraged to give to their attorneys. That document would establish rights for each companion and establish criteria for resolving custody of the animal companion during a separation or divorce.
Your next client may bring you that clause to insert into their settlement agreements or in their pre-nuptial agreements.
We can also expect an additional protected party on Orders of Protection as well as interstate pet kidnapping statutes.
But one question I have not yet determined: How can the court handle an “in camera” interview of the pet? And will a translator be required?
- SPECIFIC PERFORMANCE: Houseman v. Dare, 966 A.2d 24, 405 N.J.Super.538 (2009). Woman appeals from a judgment awarding her $1500 for a dog she and man jointly owned when they separated before marriage. She sought specific performance of man’s oral agreement giving her possession of the dog (which he breached).The trial court had found that man had orally agreed to give woman possession of the dog, but awarded him possession on the ground that the dog was in his possession at the time of the litigation.
The appellate court stated that, “The [trial] court’s conclusion that specific performance is not, as a matter of law, available to remedy a breach of an oral agreement about possession of a dog reached by its joint owners is not sustainable. The remedy of specific performance can be invoked to address a breach of an enforceable agreement when money damages are not adequate to protect the expectation interest of the damaged party and an order requiring performance of the contract will not result in inequity to the offending party, reward the recipient for unfair dealing or conflict with public policy.”
Specific performance is generally recognized as the appropriate remedy when an agreement concerns possession of property such as “heirlooms, family treasures and works of art that induce a strong sentimental attachment.” Id. at § 360 comment b. That is so because money damages cannot compensate the injured party for the special subjective benefits he or she derives from possession.
On the same reasoning, when personal property has such special subjective value courts have determined that an award of possession of personalty is the only adequate remedy for tortious acquisition and wrongful detention of property.
There is no reason for a court of equity to be more wary in resolving competing claims for possession of a pet based on one party’s sincere affection for and attachment to it than in resolving competing claims based on one party’s sincere sentiment for an inanimate object based upon a relationship with the donor. See Burr, supra, 101 N.J. Eq. at 626, 138 A. 876. In both types of cases, a court of equity must consider the interests of the parties pressing competing claims for possession and public policies that may be implicated by an award of possession. Cf. Juelfs v. Gough, 41 P.3d 593, 597 (Alaska 2002) (approving modification of a property settlement agreement providing for shared possession of a dog because the arrangement assumed cooperation between the parties that did not exist); Akers v. Sellers, 114 Ind.App. 660, 54 N.E.2d 779, 779-80 (1944) (speculating that the interests of the pet might be different but finding the evidence adequate to support an award of possession to the wife, rather than husband, on the ground that the husband had given her the dog).
In those fortunately rare cases when a separating couple is unable to agree about who will keep jointly held property with special subjective value (either because an agreement is in dispute or there is none) and the trial court deems division by forced sale an inappropriate or inadequate remedy given the nature of the property, our courts are equipped to determine whether the assertion of a special interest in possession is sincere and grounded in “facts and circumstances which endow the chattel with a special … value” or based upon a sentiment assumed for the purpose of litigation out of greed, ill-will or other sentiment or motive similarly unworthy of protection in a court of equity. Burr, supra, 101 N.J. Eq. at 626, 138 A. 876. We are less confident that there are judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving questions of possession from the perspective of a pet, at least apart from cases involving abuse or neglect contrary to public policies expressed in laws designed to protect animals, e.g., N.J.S.A. 4:22-17 to -26. DeVesa v. Dorsey, 134 N.J. 420, 445, 634 A.2d 493 (1993) (discussing justiciablity); see Morgan, supra, 702 A.2d at 633 (noting that “[h]owever strong the emotional attachments between pets and humans, courts simply cannot evaluate the `best interests’ of an animal” and resolving a dispute about possession in light of the interests asserted by the parties).
We conclude that the trial court erred by declining to consider the relevance of the oral agreement alleged on the ground that a pet is property. Agreements about property jointly held by cohabitants are material in actions concerning its division. They may be specifically enforced when that remedy is appropriate.
THE PET AS AN UNIQUE ITEM OF PERSONAL PROPERTY:
- Anzalone v. Kragness, 356 Ill.App.3d 365, 826 N.E.2d 472, (1st, 2005). This matter arose over the death of a cat belonging to plaintiff Mary Ann Anzalone. The cat, Blackie, was boarded at the Kragness Animal Hospital, Ltd. (Kragness Animal Hospital), when she was attacked by another boarder, a rottweiler dog, and killed. Plaintiff brought this action against defendants Craig Kragness, D.V.M. and the Kragness Animal Hospital for breach of bailment, negligence, breach of a fiduciary duty and intentional infliction of emotional distress, seeking $100,000 in damages plus costs and attorney fees. The circuit court dismissed the count of intentional infliction of emotional distress with prejudice and struck the prayer for relief on the remaining counts. The circuit court granted plaintiff leave to amend her first amended complaint to include a new prayer for relief, directing that the prayer for relief “specify [p]laintiff’s claim for actual damages and * * * not contain a prayer for attorney fees.” Rather than filing a second amended complaint, plaintiff brought this appeal. For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand.
Earlier Illinois cases provided for damages based on a pet’s fair market value, as evidenced by the pet’s qualities and its commercial value, and for the loss of its services. See Spray v. Ammerman, 66 Ill. 309 (1872); accord Demeo v. Manville, 68 Ill.App.3d 843, 846, 25 Ill.Dec. 443, 386 N.E.2d 917, 918 (1979). This method of computing damages does not account for the instances where the pet has no market value. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 911, Comment e, at 474 (1965). The Restatement and most jurisdictions take a position that in such cases it would be unjust to limit the damages to the fair market value and, instead, use the so-called “value to the owner” (also known as “actual value to the owner” or “actual value”) as the measure of damages. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 911, Comment e, at 474 (1965). The Restatement notes that where the subject matter cannot be replaced, the measure of the “value to the owner” is left largely to the discretion of the trier of fact. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 912, Comment c, at 481 (1965).
Jankoski, this court’s more recent opinion on the subject of pet valuation, addressed the calculation of damages in a wrongful death of a pet with no fair market value and adopted the latter approach to the valuation of a pet as a unique item of personal property:
“[T]he proper basis for assessing compensatory damages in such a case is to determine the item’s `actual value to [the owner,]’ * * * [who] is `entitled to demonstrate its value to him by such proof as the circumstances admit.’” Jankoski, 157 Ill.App.3d at 820, 110 Ill.Dec. 53, 510 N.E.2d at 1086, quoting Long v. Arthur Rubloff & Co., 27 Ill.App.3d 1013, 1026, 327 N.E.2d 346, 355 (1975).
Jankoski thus held that the value to the owner may “include some element of sentimental value in order to avoid limiting the [owner] to merely nominal damages.” Jankoski, 157 Ill.App.3d at 821, 110 Ill. Dec. 53, 510 N.E.2d at 1087. However, Jankoski acknowledged that the “damages in such cases, while not merely nominal, are severely circumscribed.” Jankoski, 157 Ill.App.3d at 821, 110 Ill.Dec. 53, 510 N.E.2d at 1087.
It has been said that the courts allow recovery for the emotional component through the use of legal fiction that the owner is not being directly compensated for the emotional harm but, rather, for the “value to the owner,” which includes an element of the owner’s feelings for the pet. 1 D. Dobbs, Remedies § 5.15(3), at 899-900 (1993). In employing that fiction, the courts are “denying in one breath that * * * emotional harm damage can be recovered, but awarding * * * damages for the personal value to the owner, specifically including the owner’s feelings as a part of this value.”
- Heitz v. Circle Four Realty Co., 191 Ill.App.3d 727, 548 N.E.2d 11 (3rd, 1989). Declaratory judgment was sought that land contract between owner and developer had terminated, trial court agreed, and the Appellate Court reversed. The Appellate Court held that 1) evidence supported finding of oral modification of the parties’ written agreement and 2) the statute of frauds did not prevent this specific performance. Plaintiff argued that specific performance is inappropriate because the legal remedy of money damages is available to compensate Defendant and because the contract provides for future performance. The Appellate Court was persuaded, however, that the subject matter of the contract at issue has an intrinsic value sufficiently unique to render the award of money damages inadequate and that the terms of the contract are not so detailed that court supervision would be complex.
- Jankoski v. Preiser Animal Hospital, 157 Ill.App.3d 818, 510 N.E.2d 1084 (1st, 1987). Dog owners brought action against veterinarians and animl hospital for loss of companionship resulting from negligently caused death of dog. Trial court dismissed, and Appellate Court affirmed. Regardless of whether plaintiffs characterize their cause of action as one for loss of companionship or emotional distress, a reading of the cases in both areas of law reveal that they are readily distinguishable from the case at bar in one very important respect. They involve human beings, not dogs. In the eyes of the law, a dog is an item of personal property. (Thiele v. City and County of Denver (1957), 135 Colo. 442, 312 P.2d 786; Smith v. Costello (1955), 77 Idaho 205, 290 P.2d 742.) The ordinary measure of damages for personal property is the fair market value at the time of the loss. (Long v. Arthur Rubloff & Co. (1975), 27 Ill.App.3d 1013, 1025, 327 N.E.2d 346, 355.) The courts have recognized, however, that there are a number of items of personal property that have no market value. Included in this group are such items as heirlooms, photographs, trophies and pets. (See Dobbs, Remedies sec. 5.12, at 396-98; C. McCormick, Damages sec. 45, at 170 (West 1935).) In Long v. Arthur Rubloff & Co. (1975), 27 Ill.App.3d 1013, 1025, 327 N.E.2d 346, 355, the court stated that where property is not the ordinary subject of commerce or is otherwise unique, damages are not restricted to nominal damages; rather, damages must be ascertained in some rational way from such elements as are attainable. The court there espoused the rule that the proper basis for assessing compensatory damages in such a case is to determine the item’s “actual value to [the] plaintiff” and stated that the plaintiff is “entitled to demonstrate its value to him by such proof as the circumstances admit.”
A recurring problem in cases of this sort is whether and to what extent the owner of an item of personal property having no market value should be allowed to recover for the “sentimental value” which he attached to the item. In Brousseau v. Rosenthal (N.Y.Civ.Ct.1980), 110 Misc.2d 1054, 443 N.Y.S.2d 285, the plaintiff delivered her healthy, eight-year-old dog to a kennel and was told upon her return two weeks later that the dog had died. Applying the law of bailments, the court found that the defendant had been proved negligent, then turned to the question of how to compute damages given the fact that the dog had no ascertainable market value. The court determined that the measure of damages to be applied was the dog’s actual value to the owner, then held that the loss of companionship was a proper element to consider in establishing the actual value of the dog. Based upon the evidence before it, the court awarded the plaintiff judgment in the amount of $550 plus costs.
The Brousseau court did not, as plaintiffs ask us to do, recognize loss of companionship as an independent cause of action, but rather considered it as an element to be used measuring the actual value of the dog for purposes of calculating damages in a property damage case. In doing so, it followed the previously discussed rules regarding the assessment of damages in cases where the object destroyed has no market value. In line with these cases, we believe that the law in Illinois is that where the object destroyed has no market value, the measure of damages to be applied is the actual value of the object to the owner. The concept of actual value to the owner may include some element of sentimental value in order to avoid limiting the plaintiff to merely nominal damages. It appears clear that damages in such cases, while not merely nominal, are severely circumscribed.
The plaintiffs in the case at bar, however, expressly disavow any sort of limited recovery for property damage. Rather, they are asking us to extend the independent cause of action for loss of companionship recognized in cases such as Bullard v. Barnes (1984), 102 Ill.2d 505, 82 Ill.Dec. 448, 468 N.E.2d 1228, and Dralle v. Ruder (1986), 148 Ill.App.3d 961, 102 Ill.Dec. 621, 500 N.E.2d 514, leave to appeal allowed, 113 Ill.2d 573, 106 Ill.Dec. 46, 505 N.E.2d 352, to permit recovery by a dog owner for the loss of companionship of a dog. We do not believe that this is consistent with Illinois law.
- Estate of Johnson v. Evangelical Hospital Assoc., 39 Ill.App.3d 246, 350 N.E.2d 310 (1st, 1976). Executor of Decedent’s estate sought specific performance of oral contract and to set aside will, which trial court denied. Appellate court found that executor had adequate remedy at law and was not entitled to specific performance. The general rule is that specific performance will not be granted where there is an adequate remedy at law, such as money damages, unless there is some element or feature to show that the relief at law might not be adequate, such as where the measure of damages resulting from non-performance of the agreement is uncertain or difficult to ascertain. (George F. Mueller & Sons, Inc. v. Morales, 25 Ill.App.3d 466, 323 N.E.2d 518.) Since personal property is ordinarily not unique, contracts relating solely to personal property will not be specifically enforced unless the property involved has some intrinsic or special value to the complainant. (Cohn v. Mitchell, 115 Ill. 124, 3 N.E. 420; Ingram v. Hammer Bros. White Lead Co., 269 Ill.App. 87.) Applying these rules to oral contracts to will or devise property in return for personal services rendered to the decedent, the courts will specifically enforce such contracts only where the complainant cannot be made whole by damages. (Linder v. Potier, 409 Ill. 407, 100 N.E.2d 602.) The test is whether a gross fraud would be suffered by the complainant if specific performance was denied. Pocius v. Fleck, 13 Ill.2d 420, 150 N.E.2d 106; Yager v. Lyon, 337 Ill. 271, 169 N.E. 222.
Even taking the facts contained in plaintiffs’ complaint as true, as we must on a motion to dismiss (Mathis v. Hejna, 109 Ill.App.2d 356, 248 N.E.2d 767), plaintiffs’ complaint contains no allegations indicating why plaintiffs would not be adequately compensated for their performance of services to the decedent pursuant to the alleged oral contract either by money damages for decedent’s breach thereof or by restitutional money damages for the reasonable value of the said services. Plaintiffs’ complaint contains no allegations that decedent’s personal property has any intrinsic or special value to them.The gravamen of plaintiffs’ complaint is that they performed certain services for decedent for which they expected to be paid. No reason is perceived, nor is any pointed out, why a complete and adequate remedy does not exist by presentation of a claim therefore to the probate court. Indeed, plaintiffs have filed a claim against the estate, requesting damages in an amount twice the value of the estate. For this reason alone, plaintiffs’ remedy at law is not inadequate.
- Ruddock v. First Nat’l Bank of Lake Forest, 201 Ill.App.3d 907 (2nd, 1990). Buyer of astronomical clock brought action against seller and against subsequent buyers for specific performance of his contract. Trial court only allowed damages to the intitial buyer. Appellate Court held that the fact that value could be assigned to this unique clock did not necessarily make damages an adequate remedy for breach of contract, and the clock was sufficiently unique to permit specific performance of a contract for the sale of goods.
Section 2-716(1) of the Uniform Commercial Code (Code) (Ill.Rev.Stat.1987, ch. 26, par. 2-716(1)) provides that “[s]pecific performance may be ordered where the goods are unique or in other proper circumstances.” The determination of whether to grant specific performance lies within the discretion of the trial court. (Dawdy v. Sample (1989), 178 Ill.App.3d 118, 127, 127 Ill.Dec. 299, 532 N.E.2d 1128; Ill.Ann.Stat., ch. 26, par. 2-716, Uniform Commercial Code Comment, at 594 (Smith-Hurd 1963).) Article 2 of the Code seeks to further a more liberal attitude than some courts have shown in connection with the specific performance of contracts of sale. Ill.Ann.Stat., ch. 26, par. 2-716, Uniform Commercial Code Comment, at 594 (Smith-Hurd 1963).
The requirement of uniqueness has clearly been satisfied in the present case as the evidence establishes that the clock is one of a very few of its type manufactured, may be the only one in existence, and is of historical significance. Furthermore, the Crums’ attorney stipulated the clock was unique.
- Long v. Arthur Rubloff & Co., 27 Ill.App.3d 1013, 327 N.E.2d 346 (1st, 1975). Former employee of real estate agency brought action against the agency for alleged breach of oral agreement of employment and wrongful appropriation of property, which was granted by the trial court. On the issue of wrongful appropriation of property, the Appellate Court held that the employee’s opinion as to reasonable value of the leasing data was insufficient to establish damages which he was entitled to recover.
Plaintiff’s leasing data was not an ordinary object of commerce in the sense that an ascertainable market value could be attributed to it. Furthermore, the nature of the thing converted was not such as to make production or replacement cost a viable alternative. (See Lee Shell Company, Inc. v. Model Food Center, Inc., 111 Ill.App.2d 235, 250 N.E.2d 666.) Yet, the leasing data allegedly was of a commercial and economic value to plaintiff. Given its peculiar nature, we believe that the proper basis for determining compensatory damages is its actual value to plaintiff, and that plaintiff was entitled to demonstrate its value to him by such proof as the circumstances admit. But the burden of proving the value of property converted is upon the plaintiff, and the evidence must afford some reasonable and proper basis for ascertaining value. At a minimum, it must rise to the dignity of proof, and supply such elements or standards for measuring value to enable the trier of fact to exercise its judgment.
The theory of damages, as set forth in plaintiff’s petition, was that plaintiff was deprived of an economic benefit in the nature of lost profits. In this regard, the only evidence adduced by plaintiff was his opinion that the reasonable value of the leasing data was $25,000. An analogous situation was presented in Lee Shell Company, Inc. v. Model Food Center, Inc., Supra. There, plaintiff brought an action for the conversion of plans and designs for the layout of a shopping center. The plans had no market value and the only evidence presented on the question of value was the opinion of one of the corporate plaintiff’s officers. This court held that the evidence, absent an adequate foundation, was insufficient to establish damages.
Similarly, other than plaintiff’s opinion, there was absolutely no testimony from which the trier of fact could determine the value of the leasing data to plaintiff. No testimony was offered to show what value the leasing data had been to plaintiff in the past, what commissions, if any, were made by use of the data, or other testimony to show how possession of the book economically benefited plaintiff. The circumstances here, as framed by the pleadings and the nature of the property involved, admitted of facts which would be probative of the property’s value. However, plaintiff’s opinion, unsupported by the requisite foundation, was insufficient to establish damages.
- Morgan v. Kroupa, 702 A.2d 630, 167 Vt. 99 (1997). Defendant adopted a dog, it broke free of its collar, ran away and became lost. Defendant immediately informed his friends and local businesses, and notiied the local humane society of the dog’s escape. Plaintiff found the dog walking down the highway, notified the same local humane society and was told to hold onto the dog until the owner was found, and aggressively sought to reunite the dog and its original owner. One year later, after Plaintiff had taken care of the dog, fed and sheltered it, a friend of Defendant’s told him that he had seen the dog at a house only two miles down the road.
The trial court, sitting without a jury, ruled in favor of plaintiff and returned Max to her. In so holding, the court noted that the case could be analyzed under several different theories. The first was to treat the matter as a simple property case, applying the Vermont “lost property” statute, 27 V.S.A. §§ 1101-1110. The second was to analogize it to a child custody case, inquiring into what was in the “best interests” of the dog. The third was to base the judgment on the emotional “attachment” of the contending parties. The trial court essentially chose the first approach, ruling that plaintiff had “substantially compl[ied]” with the statute and was therefore entitled to possession.
In this case, the Court follows neither the lost-property statute nor the generally accepted common-law rule. Instead, without benefit of citation to any supporting authority, the Court fashions its own solution in a manner that will be difficult, if not impossible, to apply in a consistent manner in future cases. The Court asserts that the statute applies only to animals having “significant value.” Exclusion of dogs from the lost-property statute based on lack of market value is indefensible, however. The statute deals solely with rights of ownership and compensation for expenses.
To the extent that the financial value of pets, as opposed to livestock, is relevant, other jurisdictions have acknowledged in different settings that pet dogs do have value beyond that reflected by a pure market-value analysis and have adopted means to measure that value. See Levine, 197 So.2d at 331-32 (owner of pet Chihuahua could recover compensatory damages for intrinsic value and perhaps punitive damages); Jankoski, 110 Ill.Dec. at 56, 510 N.E.2d at 1087 (actual value of pet dog could include sentimental value); Fredeen v. Stride, 269 Or. 369, 525 P.2d 166, 168 (1974) (jury could consider mental distress as element of damages for loss of pet dog under certain circumstances); see generally P. Barton & F. Hill, How Much Will You Receive in Damages From the Negligent or Intentional Killing of Your Pet Dog or Cat?, 34 N.Y.L.Sch.L.Rev. 411 (1989). Thus, a pet dog of even mixed breeding could have significant financial value, and the Court’s distinction on the basis of financial value is unjustified.
Further, a clear line cannot always be drawn between animals kept for economic reasons and those kept as pets. Many people who keep livestock become emotionally attached to individual animals. Conversely, dogs may be owned primarily or solely for their economic value as work dogs or breeding stock. And there are animals that fall somewhere in between, such as pleasure horses–livestock that are not kept for their economic value, but are, in effect, large pets. To separate some species of domesticated animals from others on an attempted livestock-pet dichotomy is a purely arbitrary interpretation of the statute.
The Court holds that any person who “finds” a dog and makes a “reasonable” effort to locate the owner may claim title to the animal superior to that of the true owner after an undefined “reasonable” amount of time.
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