The legal system's perspective on pets

Paw points logo with pawNearly 10 years ago, my sister bought her first German Shepherd. This was our first experience with purebreds; all our other pets had been rescues.


This was when we began to realize that pets, under the law, are property rather than members of the family.


What happened

The “breeder,” who in reality was a “broker” or “importer” - from whom we had bought her talked a good game, at least for a neophyte. His responses to our questions even had convinced our trainer, who herself bred West German Shepherds and was well known for her work, that the sale was on the level and a good risk. The “breeder” assured us the puppy was a perfectly healthy, breeding-quality female, that if there were problems he would send us another puppy and we could do what we wanted with this one, and so on.

During the next few months, however, we learned the puppy:

  1. had an umbilical hernia. Most reputable breeders recommend against breeding a dog with this condition, because it is hereditary and can be life-threatening. It is not an absolute disqualification from breeding, but it should have been disclosed to us before we bought her.
  2. was suffering from constant diarrhea caused by bacteria not native to this country, which means she was already ill when she came into the country. Treatment with antibiotics was required.
  3. arrived in the US seven days before we took possession of her at the airport, at which point she was nine weeks old. Rabies shots are given at 12 weeks old. According to Center for Disease Control import regulations, animals under 12 weeks old - which do not have all of their vaccinations - may be imported but the importer is required to quarantine the animal until it is 12 weeks old and has had all its vaccinations. This means the “breeder” failed to quarantine the puppy for the required time, and therefore risked exposing the puppy to disease from other animals or, more to the point of CDC concerns, any animal or human with which the puppy came in contact prior to the end of the quarantine period would be exposed to any communicable disease the puppy might be carrying.
  4. had patent ductus. In humans, this condition is known as “blue baby syndrome.” The condition exists when the pass-through valve that cleanses the puppy’s blood in utero fails to close after birth. This results in the puppy never having enough clean, oxygenated blood after birth, which causes heart damage. The first sign of it is a heart murmur, and surgery is required to correct it. The life expectancy of a dog with this condition, left untreated, is at most one to two years. Patent ductus is hereditary, with a certainty that 75 percent of pups in each litter will have the condition, and it is always a disqualification for breeding.

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Technical knowledge versus technical communication

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After a brown-bag presentation from a Linux-based technology company recently, a colleague who was an expert in mainframe technology asked a friend who was a UNIX expert, “Did that make sense to you?” The answer was affirmative, but only because the UNIX expert had already done outside study on the subject. Both technicians agreed the presenter obviously understood his subject, but both also agreed that the presentation failed to communicate with its audience.

What went wrong?

Simply stated, the wrong person was selected to make the presentation. A technology guru by definition must know how to communicate with computers, which speak in variables, parameters, arrays, loops and keywords that only programmers and computers can fathom. Programming is a high skill that requires a lot of concentration, but being able to program does not automatically confer skill in explaining to non- or less-technical people how they can use that technology to accomplish their tasks of writing reports, updating web sites or crunching numbers.

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Responsibility, part 4: Unforeseeable circumstances

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Even when all parties involved have taken proper precautions, something unfortunate still can happen. Someone, for example, could fall into an unfenced yard belonging to a dog that has never threatened anyone yet sees the person who falls as an invader. A feral dog or dog pack could attack a child on the way home from school or a man taking his evening jog.



Parents in a pet store with their children asked a German Shepherd owner whether the children could pet the dog. The dog owner agreed after first making the dog sit. The older children petted the dog by rubbing its head and back; the dog loved the attention.


The little girl, who was about 2 years old, however, patted the dog by smacking the palm of her hand on the dog’s nose. The owner and the parents spotted the situation and moved to intervene on the correct assumption that most dogs being smacked on the nose, quite understandably, would bite the girl.


Before any of them could actually take a step toward the dog and girl, however, the dog had ducked its head under the little girl’s hand and proceeded to lick her ear. This stopped the objectionable nose smacks while also positioning the girl’s hand right into the dog’s soft cheek fur.


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Responsibility, part 3: Taking responsibility as a dog owner

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Dog ownership is more than having a beautiful animal to love or show off as a status symbol. Dogs depend upon their owners for their needs, among which are owners who are competent leaders that set clear, reasonable boundaries around their dogs’ behavior.

Unfortunately, some dog owners acquire a dog without accepting that responsibility. This puts themselves in jeopardy legally for the dog’s behavior, for everyone who may be in physical jeopardy from the dog’s uncontrolled behavior, and for the dog’s life if a serious incident occurs.


A dog owner entered a pet store with a German Shepherd, which was on a lead but allowed to run six feet ahead of the owner. The dog approached another customer, sniffed the scent of the customer’s dog on the customer’s jeans, then growled. The other customer immediately grabbed the lead, gave it a quick snap to break the dog’s concentration, and ordered the dog to sit, which it did immediately.


The owner complained that the other customer was mistreating the dog. The other customer said the owner was not controlling the dog’s aggressive tendencies and refused to give the lead back to the owner until one of the store’s trainers took control of the dog.

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