If you’re researching information presented in this blog topic, you’re likely one of the very many who agree that pets are family members. Losing a pet, even after they’ve lived a long and happy life, can be incredibly painful. On the other hand, it is much more devastating and traumatizing to have to experience the wrongful death of a pet.
I’d like to believe that the world is full of good people with good intentions. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes, bad things happen to us, or to our loved ones – including our pets. In those moments after something tragic happens to your pet, it’s normal to filter through the list of options you have, from vet visits, to even pursuing actions against the person who caused your pet harm (whether it was intentional or not).
It’s not uncommon for us to receive calls about people whose pets have been injured – intentionally or by accident – and they want to know their options. It’s so difficult to have these conversations because of how emotionally deep the feelings toward pets are. If someone hurts your dog or cat, you deserve justice for what happened to your innocent fur baby. As moms to both cats and dogs (as well as little humans) – we get it!
First off, it is important to know that intentionally harming animals is a criminal offense. This means that if someone else intentionally harmed your pet, either directly or indirectly, criminal action can be taken.
In order to file criminal charges against somebody, take detailed notes of what happened and be sure to include a history of threats or abuse, if applicable. Notify local animal control and/or law enforcement immediately and keep them up to date with any further threats or harm to the animal. A full investigation is not always fast. It may take weeks or months for them to fully investigate and prosecute. Something to note: as time passes you may have started moving forward with your life after such a tragic loss. Having to testify at a trial months later may dredge up the old, painful memories.
Nothing will replace the void of where that pet used to live in your life, but it’s important to let law enforcement know about incidents so future harm can be prevented.
Civil actions are different than criminal actions. Where criminally, the State or government will charge the offender, civilly, you have the option to bring personal charges against the offender.
In Civil actions, you may want to first determine the full scope of what you’re hoping to achieve. Unlike car accidents or dog bites, there is no insurance company behind the offender. This means that the defendant himself is going to be the one to pay. Unfortunately, this also means that it might be more difficult to get payment from them. This is because in the state of Texas, many defendants are “judgment-proof,” meaning they have assets protected by law and nothing more. When you receive a judgment against someone, it is not an automatic pay-day. You have to work to enforce that judgment, and it’s not always easy. You are not entitled to the defendant’s first car, first home (up to a certain amount), most of their wages, etc. Of course, there are other caveats and rules to this, but overall, it’s difficult to physically obtain your reward, even if a judge ruled in your favor!
So, consider what kind of civil suit you can bring against someone who injured your pet. It’s important to understand that, because in Texas, animals are viewed as property, and that may be a tough pill to swallow, given how much they feel like family. If your pet is wrongfully killed, intentionally or by accident, you are entitled to the monetary value of the animal. In order to fully understand, let’s consider what would happen if someone damaged your vehicle intentionally, not in a wreck, but if they came over and took a baseball bat to your windshield because they didn’t like you. In that instance, they may face criminal charges and you would be able to recover the cost to repair the vehicle from them. Similarly, if a pet is killed or seriously harmed, they may face criminal charges and you can recover the cost of their vet bills or cost to replace.
This also means that unless the pet is a show animal or has sponsors (it happens), your recovery will be limited to the fair market value of the animal. For most people, this amount is very nominal and in no way fully compensates you for the pain you may feel or the costs you would incur to get that judgment. Unfortunately, Texas does not allow the recovery of pain and suffering, mental anguish, or emotional distress for the death of an animal alone.
So, on the chance that you’re reading this post before something tragic has happened, it’s best if you take the proper steps to protect your furry children now, before it’s too late. Sometimes, it’s inevitable that your pet lives and roams outside. But, if possible, take whatever steps you can to be proactive and protect them. Make sure they have food and water near safety and try not to let your cat out if they’ve been declawed, are on heavy medications, or were recently injured. If you keep your dogs in a fenced-in yard, inspect your fencing regularly for holes and damage. There are just some of the things you can do to protect your pets.
Although it may seem menial, if you receive threats from someone, especially regarding your pet, you should consider reporting it. Oftentimes, when we receive a call, the caller was previously threatened by the offender but didn’t report it. Reporting each and every threat gives you the chance to allow law enforcement to intervene and hopefully change the outcome.
Losing a loved, furry member of the family is always painful. If you have questions about your options, if never hurts to consult with an attorney experienced with wrongful death of a pet. Located in Austin, Texas, we invite you to contact McKinney Vos for a free consultation. Please call 512-457-8991, email us, or fill out our form.