dogWhile on her way to get a café macchiato, Paris Hyatt dropped her beloved pocket Chihuahua, Pavlov, off at the trendy Waco grooming studio, Doggie Styles. Two hours later, when Hyatt returned, she was confronted with the horrible news that Pavlov had run away after being scared by a loud hair dryer. Fortunately, Pavlov was quickly found at a local animal shelter. Unfortunately, when Hyatt arrived at the animal shelter she did not have enough cash in her Chanel purse to pay the $50 “pick up” charge and had to leave Pavlov until the next day when she could return with the money. A “hold for owner” tag was then put on Pavlov’s cage. That night, despite the tag, Pavlov was mistakenly euthanized by a careless shelter employee. Hyatt is devastated and sues the shelter. Can she recover for the lost companionship or sentimental value of Pavlov?

Yes, based upon a recent Ft. Worth Court of Appeals decision, Hyatt could recover for the sentimental value of a dog. In Medlen v. Strickland, the Court held that where personal property has little or no market value and its main value is in sentiment, damages may be awarded based on this intrinsic or sentimental value. The Court found that “because of the special position pets holding in their family, we see no reason why existing law should not be interpreted to allow recovery in the loss of a pet at least to the same extent as other personal property.” Because “dogs are unconditionally devoted to their owners … today, we interpret timeworn supreme court law in light of subsequent supreme court law to acknowledge that the special value of ‘man’s best friend’ should be protected.”

Tilting the Scales in Your Favor.

While the novel ruling was universally praised by pet owners throughout the country, businesses who care for animals take note. There is concern that the case may have a negative impact on the broader private sector including kennels, dog-sitters and veterinarians who may now be forced to practice “defensive” medicine.