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Judge: Bereaved dog owners can't sue

| Saturday, April 6, 2013, 5:00 p.m.

AUSTIN — Man's best friend is priceless. But a dog gone is worth nothing in Texas.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled on Friday that bereaved dog owners cannot sue for emotional damages when someone else is to blame for the death of a pet.

A Fort Worth family had challenged the law because an animal shelter mistakenly euthanized their Labrador retriever in 2009.

Justice Don Willet wrote the 25-page opinion with flourish rarely seen from the state's highest civil court. He opened with a dog-admiring passage from the English poet Lord Byron and opined the heartache wrought by “Old Yeller.”

Yet Willet concluded that “the human-animal bond, while undeniable” does not elevate to collecting money for grief.

“Measuring the worth of a beloved pet is unquestionably an emotional determination — what the animal means to you and your family — but measuring a pet's value is a legal determination,” Willet wrote. “We are focused on the latter, and as a matter of law an owner's affection for a dog (or ferret, or parakeet, or tarantula) is not compensable.”

Texas does allow owners to collect damages for wrongfully killed pets that had economic value, such as a prize-winning show dog or a stunt canine.

Jeremy and Kathryn Medlen said equally irreplaceable was their family dog, Avery, although the pet was essentially worthless in terms of market value. Avery wound up in an animal shelter after running away from home, and was mistakenly put down, even though a worker at the pound had placed a tag on the dog instructing that she not be euthanized.

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