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Legally Speaking


Issue: April, 2006
Author: Mary B. Guthrie

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Executive Director's Report

When I learned that this month's Wyoming Lawyer was going to focus on animal related legal issues, I immediately thought of instances of animal cruelty, dog bites and favorite pets that have been left trust funds. Obviously, those topics would not make for particularly interesting reading (or writing).

Consequently, this month's column will focus on the lighter side of animal law. I have found several opinions involving animals which present bizarre fact patterns and were written tongue-in-cheek. The tone of the opinions is refreshing, because "the legal system isn't usually considered a wellspring of laughter, but every once in a while, a jovial judge is faced with a case of such absurdity that it fairly demands an equally amusing response." Corpus Juris Humorous in Brief: A Compilation of Outrageous, Unusual, Infamous and Witty Judicial Opinion from 1256 A.D. to the Present ed. McClay and Matthews, Barnes and Noble Books, 1994.

The first case about an animal that I recall reading involved the reproductive history of Rose 2nd of Aberlone. Sherwood v. Walker, 33 N.W. 919 (1887). Rose, a polled Angus cow, was sold for $80 because her owner assumed that she was sterile. If she had been thought to be fertile, the sale price would have been closer to $1,000. After the new owner took possession, Rose produced a calf. The original owner sued to have Rose returned to him because of mutual mistake. The appellate court sided with Rose’s owner.

Rose’s case should be read in tandem with the poignant tale of “Martha Pietertje Pauline,” a thoroughbred Holstein heifer with “a pedigree as long and at least as well authenticated as that of the ordinary scion of effete European nobility who breaks into this land of democracy and equality and offers his title to the highest bidder at the matrimonial bargain counter,” who was impregnated by a neighbor’s plebeian bull, which having “aspirations beyond his humble station in life, wandered beyond the confines of his own pastures, and sought the society of the adolescent and unsophisticated Martha.” (Koplin v. Quade, 130 N.W. 511 (1891). Martha’s owner successfully sued the owner of the wandering bull, because the “hybrid” calf that resulted from the unintended union had to be “sold to a Chicago butcher for $7, and was probably served up as pressed chicken to the epicures of some Chicago bordering house.” (For another bovine case, see PETA v. California Milk Producers Advisory Board, 22 Cal Rpt. 3d 900 (Cal Ct. App. 2005), which held that the advertising slogan, “Great cheese comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California” was not false and misleading. PETA had argued that the advertising was false because dairy cows are exposed to harsh and uncomfortable conditions and often lead a painful existence.)

Lawsuits involving animals are obviously not limited to cows. Many opinions have concerned dogs, bringing new meaning to the expression that something is a “real dog.” The decision in Aetna Insurance vs. Sachs, 186 F. Supp. 105 (E.D. Missouri, 1960), makes one wonder about the state of mind of the attorney who took the case. Aetna Insurance sold a homeowner’s policy to Mr. and Mrs. Sach to cover property damage. After Andre, the Sach’s French poodle, used a very valuable Persian rug, the furniture and the drapes as a bathroom, the Sachs filed an insurance claim for $7,500. The company sent “an adjuster to the premises to survey the effects of where Andre, the French Poodle, had popped in, piddled and popped out. In fact, he testified that Andre gave a ‘command performance’ while he was there.” The court held that the insurance company wasn’t liable because of the pet owners’ “gross negligence and indiscretion in permitting Andre to roam the house at will, hoisting his leg at random, probably yipping and yiping in his canine Utopia.” At least in Missouri, puddles made by poodles are not compensable.

Montgomery v. Maryland Casualty Company, 151 S.E. 363 (Ga. 1929), involved an interesting twist on the notion that a dog is man’s best friend. The suit involved a claim for workers’ compensation benefits by the family of an employee of a boat repair company who drowned while attempting to rescue his dog. The Georgia Supreme Court made short shrift of the claim, but the author waxed at great length about the special relationship between man and dog:

From the dawn of primal history the dog has loomed large in the art and literature of the world, including judicial literature. So it doubtless will be until the “crack of doom.” In metal and in stone his noble image has been perpetuated, but the dog’s chief monument is in the heart of his friend, “man.” As a house pet, a watchdog, a herder of sheep and cattle, in the field of sport, and as the motive power of transportation, especially in the ice fields of the far north as well as in the Antarctics, the dog has ever been a faithful companion and helper of man. In the trackless forests of the new world he was on the firing line of civilization in the task of subduing all enemies, whether savage man or wild beast.

The author used quotations about dogs from many writers, including Shakespeare, Socrates, Herodotus, the Bible, the Odyssey, and Lord Byron.

No discussion of cases involving animals would be complete without an opinion about a cat. The case of Miles v. City Council of Augusta, Georgia, 551 F. Supp. 349 (S.D. Georgia, 1982), pitted the power of the City of Augusta against Carl and Elaine Miles, who made a living by displaying “Blackie, the Talking Cat” on the streets. Blackie was purported to be able to say several things, including, “I love you,” and “I want my Mama.” Passersby were asked to contribute money when they heard the cat speak. Several people complained to the police, who advised the Miles that they could not solicit funds unless they obtained a business license. The court summarily rejected the Miles’ argument that requiring a business license violated their First Amendment rights of speech and association. The case of “Blackie, the Talking Cat” should not be read because of any profound legal issues, but because of the flowery language used by the judge:

That a talking cat could generate interest and income is not surprising. Man’s fascination with the domestic feline is perennial. People of western cultures usually fall into two categories. Generally, they are ailurophiles or ailurophobes. Cats are ubiquitous in the literature, lore and fiber of our society and language. The ruthless Garfield commands the comic strips, the Cat in the Hat exasperates even Dr. Seuss, and who hasn’t heard of Heathcliff, Felix or Sylvester? Historically calico cats have eaten gingham dogs, we’re taught that “a cat can look at a king” and at least one cat has “been to London to see the Queen.”

The moral to this column is that if you are bored by representing clients in cases that involve contracts or mechanics liens, you should take a case involving animals. You might brighten up a judge’s otherwise mundane day!

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