If the dog is killed, the owner will receive either the market value of the dog before it died, or the amount it would take to replace the dog, depending on the specific circumstances and the law of the jurisdiction where the incident happened. The market value might be higher than the replacement value because the dog might have won awards or otherwise been a great value to the owner. The replacement cost might be higher because the dog might have been old and relatively valueless from a purely economic standpoint, while the cost of a new dog might be high. All of these factors are discussed below.
Ordinarily the proper measure of recovery for the killing of a dog is the dog’s market value at the time of its death. In Dreyer v. Cyriacks 112 Cal.App. 279, 297 P. 35 (Cal.App. 1 Dist., Feb. 28, 1931), the owner of “Peter the Great,” a dog who worked in the motion picture industry, sued an individual who fired a weapon in the direction of the dog owner’s automobile following a quarrel. Not knowing that the dog was in the vehicle, the man killed the dog. The court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting a new trial on the ground that the verdict of $100,000 in compensatory damages and $25,000 in punitive damages was excessive. As to compensatory damages, the court said that, although several witnesses estimated the value of the dog to be from $150,000 to $200,000, in view of the other testimony showing the amounts the dog had earned, it was obvious that the estimates fixed by these witnesses were based entirely on fanciful speculation. Consequently, held the court, the trial court was not bound to accept this testimony and was more than justified in holding that the verdict was grossly excessive.
Observing that the cases cited by the dog owner involved death or injury of a human being, the court stressed that it was absurd to argue that, in fixing damages, the value of human lives and the value of dogs were to be measured by the same standard:
- “With reference to the question of the amount of the verdict, plaintiffs have cited us to an array of cases from thirty states of the Union and from England and Canada. But not one of them relates to the destruction of an animal. They all concern the death of or injury to human beings, and it is absurd to argue that in fixing damages the value of human lives and the value of dogs are to be measured by the same standard. As declared in section 491 of the Penal Code, “Dogs are personal property, and their value is to be ascertained in the same manner as the value of other property,” but certainly the value of a human life is not to be so determined. (112 Cal.App. 279, 284-285.)
In a dog owner’s action to recover from a motorist who struck the dog with his automobile and, allegedly to put it out of its misery, then shot the dog, which was a 15-month-old purebred Weimaraner registered female, the court, in Wells v. Brown, 97 Cal. App. 2d 361, 217 P.2d 995 (4th Dist. 1950), affirming a verdict for the dog owner, held that the $1,500 verdict was supported by the evidence. The court pointed to the testimony of a witness that (1) he had considerable experience with dogs and did a great deal of hunting with them; (2) the Weimaraner, a German dog, was a new breed and was supposed to be an all-around hunting dog; (3) he possessed one of these dogs and was acquainted with the dog that was involved in this accident; (4) he was familiar with the value of these dogs on the market today; (5) he would say that there were about 9,000 tentative orders or applications on hand for this breed of dog in the United States; (6) if an outsider wanted such a dog, he was required to join the Weimaraner Club and abide by their rules and regulations as to breeding them before such a dog would be sold; and (7) considering the market value of this particular dog on the date it was killed, “that dog would be worth from three to five thousand dollars.” The court concluded that, although there was evidence that this particular dog, when much younger, cost its owner the sum of $300, this figure was not conclusive of its market value at the time it was killed.
Where the dog has no market value
Where dog has no market value, or market value is not a true indication of value, the proper measure for the killing of the dog is the dog’s value to its owner.
Owner’s opinion of value
The dog owner’s opinion testimony as to the value of the dog is admissible.
Third party’s opinion of value
Opinion testimony as to the value of the dog, by a witness other than the dog owner, is admissible. For example, a witness testified that the dog owner’s 15-month-old female pure-bred registered Weimaraner, which was a new breed from Germany, “would be worth from three to five thousand dollars.” Wells v. Brown, 97 Cal. App. 2d 361, 217 P.2d 995 (4th Dist. 1950).
Evidence of the price paid by the owner in purchasing the dog is admissible on the issue of the dog’s value.
Offer to purchase
Evidence of an offer to purchase the dog received by the dog owner is admissible on the question of the dog’s value.
Dog as a producer of income
Income attributable to the dog is admissible on the question of the dog’s value. For example, experts testified that a performing dog could earn more than $100,000, and the court awarded $5,000 in compensatory damages. Mitchell v. Union Pac. R. Co., 188 F. Supp. 869 (S.D. Cal. 1960).
Dog’s characteristics, training and breeding
Evidence of the dog’s characteristics, training, or breeding is admissible on the question of the dog’s value. In Mitchell v. Union Pac. R. Co., 188 F. Supp. 869 (S.D. Cal. 1960), a dog named “Pudsy” was being transported by railroad, and died from exposure to excessive heat. The owner sued the railroad and testified that the value of the dog exceeded $100,000. He also presented expert witnesses who testified that the dog could earn in excess of $100,000. This figure was based on the owner’s claims that the dog could give answers of problems in addition, subtraction, and division in any combination up to 20 by a number of barks. The owner further testified that (1) the only prompting given to the dog was his tone of voice, (2) the dog would bark the number of spots appearing on a playing card without signal except being shown the card, (3) the dog was six years old and had never been exhibited professionally but had been shown at a number of charitable shows in Ireland, and (4) the dog was known as the “wonder dog of Ireland.” The owner was awarded $5,000 in compensatory damages, which the court said was not excessive under the circumstances.
Awards to the dog
Evidence concerning awards won by the dog is admissible on the issue of the dog’s value.