A Court Will Determine if They Succeed
On October 18, 2014, PETA representatives took a family’s dog, and then killed her with a lethal dose of barbiturates. Maya’s family was devastated.
Although PETA initially denied doing so according to a family spokesperson, surveillance video proved they did. They subsequently admitted to taking and killing Maya. She was not the only one. According to records received under the Public Records Act, PETA also rounded up and killed two four month old kittens, a six month old puppy, a one-year-old lab-mix, and another Chihuahua.
The Commonwealth of Virginia gave them a $500 fine for breaking the law, a slap on the wrist considering it is a fraction of the $52 million PETA took in that year from unsuspecting donors. But Maya’s family sued PETA for compensatory and punitive damages, alleging conversion of their dog (theft), trespass, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They seek $2,000,000 in compensatory damages and $5,000,000 in punitive damages.
PETA, in turn, asked the court to throw out the lawsuit by arguing that the dog was unlicensed so was not worth anything, the dog had no value beyond the cost of replacement for another dog, they had permission by the property owner to remove community cats so they cannot be guilty of trespass for entering and killing a dog, and the family is not entitled to punitive damages because PETA’s taking and immediate killing of a happy, healthy, beloved dog is not “outrageous” conduct.
In June, the Court rejected most, but tragically not all, of PETA’s arguments. First, the Court rejected PETA’s argument that failure to license a dog means the dog is worthless. PETA cited an 1887 law that required a dog “to be properly licensed as a condition of being deemed personal property.” Since the family had not licensed the dog, the dog cannot be considered property, and thus has no value, PETA argued. Putting aside the irony–and outrageousness–of PETA arguing that Maya had no value, the argument is dishonest and PETA’s lawyers know it (or should know it). That statute was repealed in 1966, 50 years ago. It has not been the law in half a century.
Unfortunately, the Court did agree with PETA that the family can only recover the market value of the dog under compensatory damages. In other words, PETA’s position is that Maya was like a toaster. If you break it, you just throw it away and get a new one, another outrageous argument by a group that takes in over $50 million per year arguing to an unsuspecting public that animals matter and have worth independent of their “market value.” More importantly, while the family can get another dog, they can never get another Maya. She is dead and gone forever because PETA purposefully and illegally trespassed on their property to steal and kill her.
PETA, however, told the court that they cannot be held liable for trespass because the property owner gave them permission to come into the trailer park and onto the property and round up community cats (who they would also kill that day). In other words, PETA argued that since they had permission to round up and kill community cats, they have permission to come on the property and also take (and then kill) a family’s dog. The Judge was not moved: giving someone permission to come onto a property for one purpose does not give them the right to do whatever they want. Furthermore, wrote the Judge, “a dog is not a cat.”
Finally, the Court overruled PETA’s argument that taking and killing a dog is not “outrageous conduct” required for awarding of punitive damages. The Judge ruled: “I believe reasonable people could find that taking another’s dog and killing [her] is outrageous and intolerable.”
The next court hearing is September 26. A ruling on the motions will occur shortly thereafter.
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