Companion animals are big business. With approximately 26% of the population owning a dog and/or a cat, feed, veterinary care and accessories alone make a large contribution to the economy. A puppy can easily cost a four figure sum, regardless of provenance; in fact, the more dubious the breeder, the likelier that the price demanded will be high.
Legally, animals are regarded as either wild, chattels or livestock. This effects any value placed on them in the event of an insurance claim or similar legal redress. This makes sense in that, whatever the emotional attachment, animals clearly do not have the capability of representing themselves in any judicial proceeding. However, it of course does not take into account the emotional value that the animal holds for humans.
Whilst this also applies to farm animals, it is the impact of valuation on companion animals that is most likely to change, if the lead taken in the USA is anything to go by. Half of the population in the USA owns at least one dog, compared to just over a quarter of the UK population. Companion dogs have been increasingly commodified in recent years and Americans spent ten times as much on companion animals than on legal marijuana and more than twice as much as on pizza.
Much of this is to be regretted, with many people breeding, buying and owning dogs as they might any other consumable, and consequential effects on canine welfare. However, the other side of that coin is that dogs are paradoxically becoming valued in an emotional sense that goes beyond their legal designation as chattels without attributing anthropomorphic “rights”.
Academics Simon F Header, Deven Carlson, Hank Jenkins Smith and Joe Ripberger used a formula, previously devised for valuing human life and calculated that the value of a companion dog is $10,000 (£7,500). A similar calculation has valued a human life at $10M (£75M). This is considerably more than the “price of a replacement” sum that could be granted in law in any compensation claim.
Of course, emotionally our canine companions are priceless and it is uncomfortable for many to consider their dog in monetary terms. In some instances, setting a so-called shadow price on the life of a dog at least takes into account that emotional value and means that in cases of negligence for instance, a much fairer level of compensation can be sought. It remains to be seen if the judiciary or professional bodies in the UK will follow the USA’s lead, but it is surely only a matter of time.