Doggy Portraiture Forces Reexamination
of Animal Life & Value
Vet Proposes Law for Pet Compensation
A popular photographer in Taiwan is making waves in the global animal-rights community with his dignified portraits of doomed dogs.
Tou Yun-fei, a two-time winner of his government’s photography award, gave up his job as a well-compensated staffer at a magazine for two years to shoot more than 40,000 human-like images of abandoned canines in Taiwan’s animal shelters – just before they were to be put to death.
“These shots, which took up so much of the photographer’s time, are striking because of the humanity captured in the expression of the dogs,” says Kenneth Newman, a 33-year veterinarian and author of Meet Me at the Rainbow Bridge (www.meetmeattherainbowbridge.com). “Efforts like this in the United States are part of the reason we euthanize far fewer animals today than we did 30 or 40 years ago.
“Now, we need work on changing the laws so that the judicial system recognizes the value of a pet as more than a piece of property.”
How effective have U.S. public awareness campaigns regarding pet overpopulation been?
• U.S. dogs are less likely to be euthanized in shelters than in other countries (including Tou’s Taiwan). The Humane Society of the United States reports 3 to 4 million cats and dogs are put down every year. A precise number is not known because there is no central data reporting agency for animal shelters.
• During the 1970s in the United States, an estimated 12 to 20 million cats and dogs were euthanized at shelters. These reduction is credited in large part to public awareness and spay/neuter campaigns, according to the Humane Society.
• In the 1970s, there were 67 million pets in U.S. homes; today, there 135 million.
Newman says the next logical step in our society is passing a law that requires courts to consider the emotional value of a pet when considering legal compensation to owners whose animals die as a result of someone else’s neglect, malice or mistake.
“There have been a few instances where plaintiffs made a case for compensation beyond the animal’s market value, because of their bond with the pet, and some judges have agreed,” Newman says. “But it shouldn’t be left to chance. Our laws should accurately reflect the value of our pets for the average American,” he says. “Ninety percent of pet owners consider their animals to be part of the family.”
Newman experienced a real-life tragedy in 2008, when a careless driver backed up 25 yards without looking, striking Newman and his beloved Labrador, Gracie, and pinning them between the veterinarian’s station wagon and the driver’s bumper. This inspired him to propose Gracie’s Law (available for reading or sharing on his website), which would entitle the owner of a pet killed through an act of malice or negligence to $25,000 in damages.
Gracie’s Law would not supersede current laws, he says, which entitle owners to the property value of their pet. And it would not replace criminal prosecution for acts of malice. And owners who decline a recommended veterinarian procedure to save a pet would not be held accountable under the law, he says.
“When you consider the fact that a majority of pet-owning Americans would prefer to be stranded on a desert island with their pet rather than any other human being,’’ he says, “that’s when you know animals should be legally valued above inanimate objects.”