Kayla Bernays, ‘We’ve Still Got Feelings: Re-Presenting Pets as Sentient Property’

Pets are something special; one only needs to talk to a pet owner for a short time to determine as much. But that special place a pet takes in its owner’s heart is not properly reflected in modern law. Instead, US courts generally regard pets in the same way that they would any other piece of inanimate, personal property – like a book or a smartphone. Such treatment does a grave disservice to both pets and the owners who love them, and it follows that the laws should be changed to mirror current societal perceptions of pet ownership.

However, courts ought to re-categorize carefully. On the one hand, the current laws are insufficient to protect pets. On the other hand, advocating for granting pets rights coterminous with legal personhood is neither realistically achievable nor desirable.

The appropriate solution, then, is a middle ground between property and person: the sentient-property solution. This solution recognizes the value of pets and suitably weighs that value against human interests, and simultaneously avoids the pitfalls of categorizing pets as one extreme or the other. Surprisingly, this solution has been standing ready for over ten years. But based on current common-law trends, the United States only recently seems ready to accept it.

Kayla A Bernays, We’ve Still Got Feelings: Re-Presenting Pets as Sentient Property, 60 Arizona Law Review 485 (2018).

First posted 2018-04-17 14:11:28

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