The issue of pets as property is playing out in courthouses nationwide as people separated from pets during Hurricane Katrina now are trying to pry loose their animals from adoptive homes, reports the St. Petersburg Times. In a highly publicized case, Hillsborough prosecutor Pam Bondi will go to trial in November to fight to keep a St. Bernard from owners she believes didn't properly care for it before the storm.
Cases like hers are being closely watched by animal rights activists and animal law experts, who say judges could carve new precedent if they consider a pet's best interests when deciding who gets to keep it.
“There is a major problem right now,” said David Favre, who teaches a course on animal law at Michigan State University. “Whether or not you treat something right, if it's property, simply is not relevant.” Try convincing adoring pet owners of that. The law may check emotion at the door, but people who endure hefty legal bills and prolonged court battles on behalf of their animals don't equate them with a car or a couch. A few areas of the law have distinguished pets from property, but not always with success. Some judges in divorce cases have set up visitation schedules for divorcing spouses quibbling over custody of their pets, which don't fall under child custody rules.