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NC appeals court weighs value of pet's life

Posted January 24, 2012

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— State officials say a dead pet is worth the cost of replacing it, but Herb and Nancy Shera are waging a court fight to prove that a pet's life is worth more than simply buying another animal.

The Sheras' 12-year-old Jack Russell terrier, Laci, died almost five years ago when veterinarians at North Carolina State University accidentally inserted a feeding tube in her trachea instead of her esophagus, drowning the dog over a seven-hour period.

N.C. State's College of Veterinary Medicine admitted negligence and has since changed its procedures to ensure similar incidents don't occur again. State regulators also reprimanded the veterinarians who oversaw Laci's care at the small-animal hospital on campus.

Compensating the Sheras for their loss, however, remains a sticking point. Under North Carolina law, pets are considered property, and the North Carolina Industrial Commission, which handles tort claims against the state, awarded the couple $350, which commissioners said was the cost of replacing Laci with another Jack Russell.

The Sheras appealed the ruling to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, which heard the case Tuesday but isn't expected to issue a ruling for several months.

"Laci was just so unique. She was this special little joy in our life," Nancy Shera said.

She said the dog likely saved her husband's life when he experienced chest pain and Laci alerted her to the situation so she could call paramedics for help.

"People don't know what dogs sense. They have a unique ability to sense something, and I think they sense emotions," Herb Shera said.

Laci the Jack Russell terrier Court case could decide value of pet's life in NC

Their attorney, Calley Gerber of Raleigh-based Gerber Animal Law Center, argued that the Sheras are entitled to more than $28,000 for Laci's death since that is what they invested in her treatment for cancer at the N.C. State small-animal hospital. Gerber also said the dog's unique character should be included when calculating its value.

"It's very difficult to determine what a dog is worth – or really any companion animal – in North Carolina," Gerber said. "Our position is that the standard is actual value to the owner, and there are certain things that can be included in that."

Assistant Attorney General Olga Vysotskaya, who argued the case for the state, said it's too difficult to put a dollar value on pets, and the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Association contends that doing so would open a floodgate of lawsuits and eventually raise veterinary bills for all pet owners.

The Sheras said they are pursuing the case on principle and not the money. They want the state to recognize that pets have value to their owners.

"(If) Laci's horrific death could possibly help other animals and their owners, then I just had to do it," Nancy Shera said.

"(People say) a dog's a dog. No, a dog's not a dog when they're part of your family," Herb Shera said.

77 Comments

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  • quaten Jan 25, 2012

    If you want to be able to claim an emotional value on a pet in a law suit, you should be willing to pay taxes for that pets value as you declare it.

  • St Ives Jan 25, 2012

    How do you replace a four legged child. They should ahve gotten a lot more. No not thirty million but at least $5000

  • dollibug Jan 25, 2012

    This will be an interesting case to follow....as someone who was wrongfully denied workers comp claim from NC Industrial Commission.....it is sad when things like this happen...but as I said...it will indeed be an interesting case to follow...

  • JohnnyMcRonny Jan 25, 2012

    All my pets over the years are beyond tangible value. How exactly would the money compensate this couple? It's just money. What will they spend it on to ease the pain? I cannot think of one single thing. By all means seek damages from the vet but donate it all to the local animal shelter so that some good can come from their loss.

  • tiredofthenet Jan 25, 2012

    While even I don't think a dog could be worth $28,000, I do think the couple deserves every dime they ever invested in their dog. Just today I spent $450 on my dog's yearly check-up with shots, x-rays, and blood work. Multiply that times 10 for all the years I have had her, the cost of adoption, the costs for monthly baths and grooming, and even the costs of her dental care. I don't treat my dog like property, and I would appreciate if the law recognized that as well.

  • fishon Jan 25, 2012

    I know there are many out there who just consider a dog a dog, a cat a cat etc and I'm sad for you that they haven't touched your heart in good ways.
    scubagirl

    I have had dogs in the past and have 2 indoor cats now. They all have touched my heart. That is why I would never spend the kind of money we are discussing here to extend any suffering they might have for my sake. Make no mistake. The decisions made here were not for the dog but for the owners.

  • fishon Jan 25, 2012

    As we know a human life is priceless
    jmacgaffick

    No it's not.

  • ncouterbanks69 Jan 25, 2012

    "I know there are many out there who just consider a dog a dog, a cat a cat etc and I'm sad for you that they haven't touched your heart in good ways."

    However either way you look at it the saying is true. Even a sane person who doesn't believe the saying is true can not deny that they never equal a human life.

  • bigmelons2004 Jan 25, 2012

    You know scubagirl, I think that is a very good way of putting things.

  • jmacgaffick Jan 25, 2012

    personally, when you have a pet, they become a part of the family, when a pet is a part of the family- thus, family member, the cost should be comercerate with the value of a human. As we know a human life is priceless, but if a value were to be put on an adult human life it should be the cost of the age, sex, rearing, whatever the cost is that way instead of the amount that was awarded to the couple. After all it was the vets office that was at fault, it wasn't like the pet/family member died of natural causes.

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