July 15, 2004


 Task force on legal status of animals approved

Guardianship and noneconomic damages to be addressed

Posted July 1, 2004

The Executive Board has approved the formation of the Task Force on the Legal Status of Animals, charged with recommending an appropriate approach for the AVMA with respect to related public policy.

During the past few years, some courts and legislators have attempted to make pet owners into "guardians" and provide restitution to animal owners for injury, loss, or death of a pet beyond its property value.

Such efforts are increasing and, without appropriate intervention, are likely to result in emotionally driven laws and verdicts. Moreover, the public's perception of veterinarians could be adversely affected when the profession opposes such initiatives.

AVMA President-Elect Bonnie V. Beaver proposed the task force be created to address this growing problem.

"This is an extremely important area," Dr. Beaver explained. "When I'm talking to veterinarians, pet owners, legislators, groomers, and state and local VMAs, I'm consistently being asked, 'What is the AVMA doing?'"

The task force would help address these challenges by developing well-defined, scientifically based consensus proposals.

Developing model legislation applicable everywhere would be a challenge, but it is expected that key elements that should be included or excluded could be identified and be equally effective in shaping public policy.

The charge to the Task Force on the Legal Status of Animals includes identifying the pros and cons of allowing recovery of non-economic damages for injury, loss, or death of pets, including legal arguments against such awards being made by courts in absence of established law.

The group will also identify conditions under which non-economic awards are appropriate and not appropriate. It will develop a list of legal protections as they apply to guardianship of humans that are currently absent and/or would need to be created should guardianship be applied to animals.

All elements will be included in the final report the task force will prepare for the Executive Board.

The task force will consist of 6-15 members. The Executive Board chair will appoint the following members: one representative from the Executive Board; one veterinary or nonveterinary representative from a state veterinary medical association legislative committee that has addressed these issues; two veterinary or nonveterinary representatives from the American Veterinary Medical Law Association; one representative from the AVMA PLIT; and one veterinary or nonveterinary member who is an ethicist or philosopher.

The following organizations will be invited to appoint a representative to the group: American Animal Hospital Association; American Society of Veterinary Medical Association Executives; National Animal Control Association; Association of Pet Dog Trainers; The Humane Society of the United States; American Pet Products Manufacturers Association; Animal Health Institute; American Boarding Kennels Association; and the American Quarter Horse Association.

The AAHA representative must be a veterinarian; other groups may appoint either veterinary or nonveterinary representatives. These representatives will participate at their own or their association's expense.

The task force chair will be appointed by the Executive Board chair from among its members.

Board Chair Joe M. Howell asked whether the scope of the task force's work will be limited to pets, such as cats and dogs, or include food animals as well. Dr. Beaver answered that the group's first order of business will be to define which animals its work will address.

The task force will meet two times at AVMA headquarters in Schaumburg, Ill., at a cost of $11,100 and will sunset after submission of its report.