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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