May 11, 2005

Is $45,000 too much to pay when your dog kills the neighbor's cat?

I say absolutely not. Obviously, anyone can get a new cat free, so the replacement cost is nothing (unless it's a fancy breed). The linked article emphasizes the emotional harm to the owner, who was, as people are, quite attached to her specific pet.

But what I would emphasize is that people with dogs should not be letting them run loose. Unleashed dogs terrify children and disturb many adults. Back when I used to walk to work, I permanently altered my path the second time I saw two dobermans run out of a particular house. And there are many cases of dogs mauling children to death.

In short, damages have a deterrent effect, and letting dogs run unleashed in a residential area is a very specific behavior, quite susceptible to deterrence. I hope a lot of people get the message.

Now, about that cat. It shouldn't be running around loose either. It might easily bite or scratch a child too. And, worse than a dog, it is a nonnative animal that hunts down the native animals to the detriment of the ecosystem. Maybe someday someone will sue the neighbor whose cat kills a nesting songbird in his yard and win $45,000. What would you think of that? I say it would have a fine deterrent effect.

40 comments:

DaveG said...

I know I'm certainly emotionally attached to my dog (probably too attached, given that I've usurped his name for my internet postings) and would be furious if something happened to him through others negligence. I doubt if I would sue, simply because I'm just not wired that way, but I don't find the $45,000 to be extreme.

As a dog owner, you may be surprised that I too am firmly in favor of leash laws and strict enforcement of them. I always have my dog on a leash if we're walking the neighborhood, or a remote training collar when playing fetch in the yard. Some of my neighbors are not as considerate. They allow their dogs to roam free in the neighborhood. Every now and then one will approach Hogarth when he's on his leash and get a nasty reception. He feels cornered because he's leashed, so tends to lash out at approaching dogs. The neighbors who let their dogs run free for some reason consider this to be my fault.

A new neighbor moved in and had the same problem. While on a walk, his leashed dog got into a spat with an unleashed dog. The unleashed dog's owner went into a frenzy. He told her it was her own fault for not restraining her (expletive deleted) dog. He later received a visit from her father, a local law enforcement officer, who went far beyond the bounds of civil behavior in making physical threats "should he ever talk to his daughter that way again." Welcome to the neighborhood.

So no, $45k is not too much if it discourages people from allowing their pets to freely roam the neighborhood.

Craig said...

Do you really think that the fine would have any deterrant effect? I'm a dog owner and an attorney, and even I have no idea what sort of fines I might expect if my dogs were to cause some sort of trouble (beyond that I expect they'd be put down if they mauled someone).

If my behavior can't be affected by fines (and fines I don't know about can't affect me), I can't imagine that the fines will have much effect on the general public.

Palmer said...

Should we then fine someone who, say, speeds in a school zone a million dollars?

SteveR said...

In my experience, people who allow dogs/pets to terrify, annoy, harm other people and property don't give a damn about deterrents. Generally they already ignore laws and don't care what anybody thinks. Its not that its a concious decision, its inconcious. Same mentality that applies to text messaging or applying eyeliner while driving or blazing down a sidewalk on a ten speed.

James Wigderson said...

Since the $45,000 fine is not the norm, it's deterrent effect is minimal. The typical dog owner has no expectation that they will ever have to face such a fine.

If instead we were to consistently report loose dogs and if there were a corresponding increase in enforcement of leash laws then we might see some deterrence for the typical dog owner to letting their dog loose.

When you avoid the house with the dobermans what do you do about it? Do you call the authorities? And if you did, what would they do?

leeontheroad said...

I blogged on this, and I thought it was sufficient that the dog owner served time for an animal control violation. The dog was known to run through holes in the owner's fence.

I wasn't able to find an article that indicated where the incident happened, though.

As for songbird deaths, who owns the bird, to sue for damages? Would I have standing to sue a neighbor whose neutered cat may have helped itself to the voles trying to eat the non-native Iris bulbs I've planted near the house?

Buttercup and JOHN-43 said...

it ok getting $45,000, but can the person pay it, in one go or is going to be $10 a week for some many years. Liked the blog

Bruce Hayden said...

Well, someone has to be Scrooge here. I find it rediculous. And I find it a bad statement about the legal fraternity and the court system these days that this happened.

I am reminded though of my dog story - I was collecting for my paper route in the early 1960s, and as one woman opened her screen, her doberman leaped out and bit me on the stomach. For the rest of the time I ran the route, I never collected from them.

This was an earlier time. Both my father and the guy living there were attorneys. And come to find out, his son has a son in my daughter's class in school. He too is an attorney (the son, not the grandson, yet), former GC from Coors.

But back then, no one thought of suing for this sort of thing. In many ways things are better these days. Not there.

DaveG said...

I'm not too concerned about whether a $45k settlement globally acts as a deterrent or not. I think a healthy settlement and/or fine in my neighborhood would, in fact, deter the locals.

The question of fining people that speed through school zones misses the point. We're talking about a lawsuit settlement. You speed through a school zone and run over a kid, my bet is you'd be lucky to get off for one million in the ensuing lawsuit.

Ann Althouse said...

Note: it's not a fine, it's an award of damages. There are fines for letting pets roam and I'm sure they have some effect in proportion to how good the authorities are about responding to calls and whether people make calls.

And, no, I didn't call the authorities about the dobermans. Nor do I call the authorities about my neighbors' cats, even when they are sitting in my window box, even when they try to bite me after I'm nice enough to respond to their effots to get me to pet them.

I just blog about it, which I imagine has some effect. I'm doing my part right here.

What should the fine be for speeding in a school zone? The parallel question is what should the punishment and damages award be after you kill a child when you are speeding in a school zone.

Pancho said...

All pets should be controlled by their owners for the safety of the pet. Seeing dead cats in the road is an all too frequent occurance in my town.

Ann Althouse said...

Hogarth: We were simultaneously answering that speeding-in-a-school-zone question the same way. I wasn't just copying!

Bruce: a doberman bit you in the stomach when you were a kid? You deserved to recover damages! And that idiotic woman who let her guard dog get at a child ended up better off financially? I don't get it.

jeff said...

Let's see...
4 year old vs. a pit bull = carnage
4 year old vs. Fluffy = here kitty kitty...

Not really a comparison, is there?

Meade said...

Let's see...

Four month-old in utero vs. toxoplasma= devastation?

Be said...

I live in a very densely populated area and, surprisingly, this is a problem – I’ve been approached twice by roaming pitbulls in my neighborhood. There are cats all over the place (sometimes hard to tell the difference between the strays and the pets). Increasingly, we’re having issues with people taking over playgrounds/green areas as dog parks, in spite of pretty clear signage at the entrances forbidding animals.


Hal, on his walk home, took this picture a couple weeks ago. Please pardon his caption – he was pretty angry.


http://bebere.blogspot.com/2005/04/price-of-gentrification-ive-largely.html


I’ve noted that if you try to talk to people about this, they get very defensive and it becomes a “kids vs pets” issue. (I have neither a dog, nor a kid. I’d like a dog. I’ll hold off on the kid, thank you very much). The point isn’t that their dog might be better behaved than someone’s kid, the point is that they’re ruining a public space and breaking a law.

Ann Althouse said...

Lee writes: "As for songbird deaths, who owns the bird, to sue for damages? Would I have standing to sue a neighbor whose neutered cat may have helped itself to the voles trying to eat the non-native Iris bulbs I've planted near the house?"

It would be a matter for state courts to develop, wouldn't it? Does ownership matter? Is it property law or torts? It was on the theory that ownership might matter that I beefed up my hypothetical by having the songbirds be nesting in the plaintiff's yard.

Ann Althouse said...

Be: People with pets are often oblivious about how those pets make people feel. I've been out walking in a state park where the signs clearly said dogs must be leashed, and a very large dog ran up behind me and jumped up pushed me hard with two big paws on my upper back. The own walked up laughing and said her dog was very friendly and loves to play. And I remember repeatedly reassuring one of my sons, when he was very little and quite frightened after a big dog ran up to him. I used the "friendly, playful" explanation too, but I was pissed at the owner. A big dogs head is higher than a little kids head. Imagine an animal with a head higher than yours running up to you and jumping.

Rick said...

Good blog. Reminds me of the time my neighbor's cat climbed my tree and was too scared to come down. Just by coincidence the local Conservation Officer stopped by the house. My neighbor asked him for help or suggestions on how to get the cat down. The Officer put his hand on his Glock and offered to shoot the cat. Or, he said, you can wait till he jumps, either way he is dead. Then the Officer proceeded to give my neighbor a severe lecture about how house cats should be in the house. Cats kill songbirds just for fun.

My neighbor still holds that against me, like it was my fault his Tabby was threatened! We did get the cat down eventually after he borrowed a 30' ladder.

Palmer said...

"What should the fine be for speeding in a school zone? The parallel question is what should the punishment and damages award be after you kill a child when you are speeding in a school zone."

If, as you said, the issue here is finding a deterrent for a certain behavior, would it not be more effective to levy the hefty fine before a death? Why wait until the damage is done instead of trying to prevent the risky behavior?

rafinlay said...

I miss the old, rural days. The only true deterrent to loose dogs is the basic: "Your dog loose on my property is my target." Hardly ever done, but the knowledge that it COULD be done made a big difference in the attitude of the owner of the dog. By not shooting it, you were doing the owner a big favor, and he knew it.

Richard Fagin said...

Prof. Althouse:

When you find a live copperhead snake in your swimming pool, or a cougar in your back yard, tell me again about the non-native cat harming the ecosystem by hunting native fauna. A little bit ecosystem disturbance is sort of necessary where humans live, unless you want a cougar eating your kids, as has happened recently in Colorado (where the same boneheaded "mommy nature" fetish seems to exist).

No, I don't own a cat and my dog is always securly on a leash when she's out of the house.

Harkonnendog said...

Not letting most cats run around free is cruel and unusual, imho. Some cats can handle it, I know, but for a lot of cats being locked in a house most of time is hell. Our cat's quality of life would be immeasurably lowered.
It is a bit scary when he doesn't come home, but a cat is a cat, not a stuffed toy or a robot.

Of course I live in Hawaii. Things are different in Wisconsin... People hardly go outside in Wisconsin, right? ;)

L. Ron Halfelven said...

I guess I join Bruce Hayden in the Scrooge box. I'll wait a while to get upset, however, on the assumption that the case will be appealed and the damages reduced to a less preposterous amount.

Ann Althouse said...

Harkennodog: The songbirds' lives are also immeasurably lowered. Check out the "Cats Indoors" campaign.

Palmer: The idea of damages and deterrent effect is that when you look on and see what happens when behavior you are doing actually hurts someone, you may change your behavior in the future. Small fines for everyone who speeds are one thing, but $1 million when you kill someone by accident is something else. Both deter in different ways, and both strike at past conduct.

Richard Fagin: Pet owners desire to let their animals roam is not the same as taking the steps needed to protect yourself from a poisonous snake. Cats are very efficient hunters operating in an ecosystem without predators.

gs said...

There is a need for justice here, but rough justice suffices.

Kill the dog and have done.

Be said...

Oh, Ann, I can: my stepfather had a kennel where he raised labradors. I love big dogs, but I have problems when people have big dogs and don't discipline them properly. Just like I have problems with people who have kids but don't discipline them, claiming that they need to "express themselves."

Harkonnendog said...

The songbirds' lives? I don't love the songbirds... Nor the rats, nor the mice. More important- those animals don't love ME!
Anyway humans and cats have lived together for millenia- any birds that haven't made the evolutionary adjustment necessary to live with that partnership are loooong extinct.
Humans and cats made a deal a long time ago. Part of that deal involved giving cats their space.

Ann Althouse said...

Harkennodog: It seems there are two ways to love animals. The pet-way where you love them because they love you. And the other way, where you respect their animal nature and give them their space. Why should an animal care about us? The whale will never love you, nor the giraffe. I think it is a basic point of morality to love the creatures who cannot love you.

leeontheroad said...

Ann, my response to your tort or property law question is here. I know that risks flogging my blog; the post is long.

Kirk Parker said...

Ann,

Cats are very efficient hunters operating in an ecosystem without predators.

That's where the dogs come in.

Josh Jasper said...

Bruce makes the point that he didn't sue after a dog attack. Well, presumably, he wasn't hurt too badly, nor did he suffer damage to his property. Or he might have, but chose to suck it up.

Here's what I don't understand, though. If the neighbor had been a buisness owner with faulty machinery, that had been known to be faulty for some time, I'd guess that he'd be OK with a lawsuit. I could be wrong, but if I am, I'd think that few people would find his view sensible.

One dosen't suck it up if one has a serious accident, physical or property damaging. The point of suing is to recover damages, *and* to teach a lesson. As a member of society, you've got a responsibility to teach those lessons, and enforce safety. It's not a responsibility you must obey, but you ought to.

Harkonnendog said...

"Ann,
Cats are very efficient hunters operating in an ecosystem without predators.
That's where the dogs come in."

Lol!
Ann
"The pet-way where you love them because they love you. And the other way, where you respect their animal nature and give them their space."
Okay... but what if I love an animal because it loves me AND I want to give them their space? Because keeping my cat indoors is NOT giving it its space, and neither, arguably, is keeping a songbird safe by removing cats from the area. I mean we already remove the feral cats and dogs.
Cheers!

Ann Althouse said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ann Althouse said...

Harkennodog: It's not properly your cat's space out there. Your cat is an alien invader, and your desire to put its interests ahead of the interests of the animals that belong in the ecosystem is an extension of your own self-interest -- which you should rise above.

Harkonnendog said...

Ann, I live on Kauai and I can tell you that the songbirds near my neighborhood are ALL non-indigenous. They were all brought here by people, just like my cat was. And like I said earlier, if these animals want to live near humans they need to adopt to humans and humans come with pets. And in fact the birds being complained about already have adopted, or people wouldn't have heard them often enough to miss them.
The status quo is that humans come with cats- birds need to be on the look out. This talk of catless eco-systems near humans makes no sense. It has never been that way.

Anyway cats cull the weak and old songbirds much like wolves take out the caribou that can no longer make the cut. I imagine human houses and roads and stores et cetera are responsible for many more deaths then songbird muching felines.

Then you've got the law of unintended consequences- without cat predation these birds may end up causing a Hitchcockian proportion disaster. Think about that, and shudder.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and the broken dreams of kittys forced not to hunt.

Ann Althouse said...

What's replacing songbirds are crows. Ever seen a cat kill one of those?

The natural predators to cats are dangerous to human beings. You can't just let dogs out after the cats, because they'll hurt children.

Meade said...

Unfortunately, around here, the only natural predator of cats is cars. What's left is, well, left. And that's where the crows come in.

Harkonnendog said...

I don't think I've ever seen a crow, much less seen my cat kill one. I don't think there are any crows on Kauai. I'm coming from a whole 'nother perspective here, I guess.

Maybe if you shoot the crows the song birds will return?

Cheers!

Meade said...

"That is one of the contradictions of my life," she said. " I don't really approve of what I've done, but the beauty takes my breath away."

"I think they're beautiful," Dr. McDaniel added, but "I'll watch them on the nature channel."

Pissed Off Hillbilly said...

Just do what we do in West Virginia.
Cat or dog, if it's running loose, it's fair game.
Shoot it.

Did you ever notice that the people who let their pets run loose, scream the loudest when their pets are hit by cars or otherwise killed?