ANNAPOLIS – House lawmakers gave a cool reception Tuesday to a bill that would let pet owners sue for emotional suffering if their pet dies from intentional abuse.
The bill, proposed by House Speaker Casper Taylor, D- Allegany, would revise current animal abuse laws to require that anyone who harms a pet make a “reasonable attempt” to notify police or the pet’s owner within 12 hours.
But Judiciary Committee members were more concerned about a provision in the bill that would allow owners to sue for emotional damages. Current law only allows a pet owner to sue for the actual value of the animal or for any veterinary costs.
“I don’t own a dog, and I don’t own a cat. I don’t like dogs and I hate cats. How would we quantify the dollar value of a pet?” asked Del. Donald Murphy, R-Baltimore County.
Pet owner Diane Nixon told the committee that that value should be set by the courts. But for the owner, she said, the emotional value of a pet’s loss is very real.
“There needs to be some recognition of the pain and suffering caused by the loss of a companion animal,” Nixon said.
The bill would only allow owners to sue for emotional damage if the animal was injured or killed intentionally. It would not apply to accidental deaths, such as when a pet is hit by a car, or cases where a person is fending off an animal attack.
But in cases where pets are intentionally harmed, owners should be allowed to sue for emotional suffering, Nixon said.
“It’s really aimed at specific situations,” she said.
Nixon told the committee about her dog, George, who died mysteriously several years ago. An autopsy showed that he had been poisoned.
“We still don’t know who did it. It was a terrible ordeal,” Nixon said. “Right now you can’t get anything. The loss of an animal is like the loss of a close friend or family member.”
Del. Ann Marie Doory, D-Baltimore, said the bill is intended to “have somebody do the right thing,” by notifying the owner when a pet is harmed. But she and other legislators were uneasy about the emotional distress provisions.
“If we kill this puppy, are you going to sue us?” asked Del. Phillip Bissett, R-Anne Arundel.