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Man's Best Friend: Family Member or Mere Pet?

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The Vermont Supreme Court will begin hearing the case of a couple who say their dog was more than a pet and should be treated as a "member of the family and not mere property". According to Sarah and Denis Scheele of Anapolis, MD, their dog, Shadow, was fatally shot when he accidentally wandered into a neighbor’s yard. As a result, the neighbor–Lewis Duston of Northfield, MD–pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of animal cruelty and was given 100 hours of community service and a year’s probation. He also paid $4,000 to cover Shadow’s adoption fees, medical bills and cremation.

Neverthless, the Scheeles argue that the money doesn’t cover the emotional pain they’ve suffered as a result of their beloved Shadow’s death. Specifically, they argue that the loss of Shadow has caused tremendous emotional trauma and that Shadow was akin to a child in their family. Since the incident, the couple has filed civil suit against Duston and has urged the courts to recognize Shadow as a "member of a family, not mere property". They are seeking $6,000 in damages for the "emotional distress" and loss of the "solace, affection, friendship, and the love that they shared" with Shadow.

While neither Duston nor the Scheeles dispute the facts of the incident, courts across the United States have traditionally treated pets as property, which prevents plaintiffs from collecting damages from emotional loss. According to PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Scheele’s case will help to facilitate change in the way in which the courts have traditionally viewed family pets who are killed.