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NC appeals court says pets are property

Posted February 21, 2012

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— 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.

174 Comments

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  • alwaysamused Feb 23, 2012

    I think the fact that they spent $28,000 on a dog more than illustrates how delusional these people are.

  • JWill Feb 22, 2012

    soylent green is people....pets; not so much.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Feb 22, 2012

    My television is my property and I can take a sledge hammer to it if I want...without repercussion.

    Ergo...it seems that this ruling does not fit with all of the Animal Cruelty laws that we have. Nor does it jive with the police dog example, where "high-value" animals are given greater rights.

    Food for thought.

  • Lightfoot3 Feb 22, 2012

    "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." - article


    Could a person be replaced by another person with "similar training"? This shows the court made an error on their reasoning. While dogs (and other animals, such as humans) can be TRAINED to do similar tasks, tricks, etc., they all have unique PERSONALITIES, which means they can't just be replaced. The issue isn't the replacement of a sheep dog, or seeing eye dog, but rather a family pet that was like a family member, with it's own unique personality and behaviors. I've got three cats, and each one is different from the other in how they behave and show affection.


    I'm not saying the people are owed $28K (unless that's the cost of the botched medical procedure), but they are certainly owed more than just the cost of buying another dog.

  • ambreaux Feb 21, 2012

    Here are some more interesting facts from the case that might add a little insight:
    - as of the 2010 court notes: Plaintiffs do not seek non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, punitive damages; nor do they seek to be reimbursed for emotional distress. (apparently this changed at this point).
    - 13. Plaintiffs paid to defendant $2,755.72 for the March 31, 2007 to April 6, 2007 visit to defendant’s hospital.visit to defendant’s hospital. (Wonder where $28,000 came from?? It was all the medical expenses they incurred for her health since 2003 - 4 years before she made it to NCSU).

  • terrible terrier Feb 21, 2012

    "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."

    Interesting. I have a dog that is an AKC Champion, had advanced titles in Agility, Obedience, Rally and Earthdog. There is no other dog in the country with comparable achievements. I estimate I've put several thousand hours training and showing this dog...not to mention the cost of entry fees, travel, etc..

    If he's truly unique, how do I put a "replacement value" on this dog?

  • bashfuly Feb 21, 2012

    Can I claim my pet snake as a family member and get tax deduction as a dependent ?

  • james27613 Feb 21, 2012

    I've owned dogs and would never spend $28K for cancer treatments on a 12 year old dog, but that is me.

    Give them $350 and that is that. Nobody forced them to put
    the dog in treatment fort $28K.

    >>
    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.

  • Goz Feb 21, 2012

    Its fairly simple a question, How much life insurance did they carry on the dog? that is what it was worth in thier eyes before it died.

  • BullsEye Feb 21, 2012

    That comment was in regard to someone writing that their child didn't cost anyone anything but them, or something like that. My comment was merely to point out that my taxes also help to pay for their child while my dog costs no one anything but me.
    Damien Thorne
    February 21, 2012 3:35 p.m.

    Yeah, I realized that after seeing a couple of your comments further up. I apologize for the quick and misguided reaction.

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