Menu Foods made headlines earlier this year with its nationwide recall of pet food contaminated with melamine, which is particularly lethal to cats. My initial reaction to the news was an impulse to go pick up some of the offending cat food before it disappeared from the shelves. (Before I get nasty emails from offended cat-lovers, let me hasten to add that it was just a passing thought.)
The source of my momentary urge toward cat assassination goes back some 13 years. It was then I fell in love and married my wife, Marcia, who brought many wonderful things into my life. She also brought her two cats.
As a lifelong dog owner, I had never experienced living with a cat. Since I was petless at the time Marcia and I married, I thought cats might be a welcome change. They seemed like the perfect low-maintenance pets for two childless travel buffs. Wrong. I changed my mind after more than $10,000 in ruined carpets and many nighttime bathroom trips where trying to avoid regurgitated hairballs resembled tip-toeing through a minefield. I acquired a reasonable dislike for cats.
We eventually banished the guilty kitty to Marcia’s family in Texas, where legend has it she lived out her remaining years as an outdoor cat and met her demise at the hand of a hungry raccoon. For five years, I managed to keep our cat population down to one. Since my wife has clandestinely inculcated the love of cats into our children, however, a new little feline terrorist joined the family last year. Hence my wistful, if fleeting, thoughts about contaminated pet food.
Actually, of course, the contamination was anything but funny. Authorities estimate that thousands of cats were killed by the bad food. The lawsuits are next. This raises an interesting question as to what legal rights a pet owner has in suing over the death of a pet.
The answer varies, depending on your particular state. It is fairly rare that a court will award damages for emotional distress and loss of companionship for the death of a pet. However, such judgments are not completely foreign. A recent Wall Street Journal article gave several examples of judgments as high as $50,000.
When damages are awarded, in most cases they are limited to the replacement cost of the pet. These can vary widely, ranging from tens of thousands of dollars for a barrel racing horse to the cost of an adoption fee from the humane society for a tomcat. In the majority of cases, the court costs and legal fees will typically nullify any economic benefit of obtaining a judgment. While some type of class action suit may stem from the recent melamine incident, the winners will undoubtedly be the lawyers. Outside of bringing suit in small claims court, suing over the loss of a pet doesn’t seem to be a good economic decision.
Which brings me to pet insurance. Yes, indeed, there is such a thing. As veterinary medicine becomes more sophisticated and pet owners demand more complex treatments, pet health insurance is becoming more and more common. Many policies also provide for replacement costs if a pet dies of an unexpected illness or in an accident. Some also cover liability in case a pet injures someone else or damages property.
Before you consider buying any kind of pet insurance, do your research. The Internet is a good place to start. Whether pet insurance makes sense for you depends upon the value you place on your pet.
And what is the value of a cat, in my opinion? It’s probably wiser not to ask.