NC appeals court says pets are property
Posted February 21, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina Court of Appeals on Tuesday agreed with state officials about the value of a pet's life, ending a long legal battle over how a family should be compensated for the loss of their Jack Russell terrier five years ago.
Herb and Nancy Shera's 12-year-old dog, 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.
The school'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, had remained a sticking point until Tuesday's decision by the Court of Appeals.
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 that ruling and went before the Court of Appeals in January. The court ruled that, in order to award more than replacement cost, the Sheras would have to prove why Laci could not be replaced by another dog with similar training.
The Sheras' attorney, Calley Gerber of Raleigh-based Gerber Animal Law Center,said she was disappointed with the ruling and was weighing a possible appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
Gerber had argued that the Sheras were 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. She also said said the dog's unique character should be included when calculating its value.
"Laci was just so unique. She was this special little joy in our life," Nancy Shera said in January.
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 in January.