Texas' Supreme Court decided to distinguish between dogs and heirlooms "such as a wedding veil, pistol" - this is Texas - "jewelry, handmade bedspreads and other items going back several generations."
Noting that the Medlens "find it odd that Texas law would permit sentimental damages for loss of an heirloom but not an Airedale," Willett rejoined that it would be even odder if Texans could recover wrongful-death damages for the loss of a Saint Bernard but not for a brother Bernard.
Laconically noting that "the law is no stranger to incongruity," Willett explained that "permitting sentiment-based damages for destroyed heirloom property portends nothing resembling the vast public-policy impact of allowing such damages in animal-tort cases."
The court performed something like a cost-benefit analysis to answer the Medlens' perplexity that they could seek sentimental damages if a taxidermied Avery, rather than a living, panting Avery, had been negligently destroyed.
The court noted that the American Kennel Club, in a friend of the court brief joined by the Cat Fanciers' Association and other pet-welfare groups, warned against the unintended consequences of allowing "sentiment-based damages" for injured or destroyed dogs.
They fear that "pet litigation will become a cottage industry," bringing the danger of increased liability to veterinarians, shelter and kennel workers and even dog sitters.
"Litigation would arise when pets are injured in car accidents, police actions, veterinary visits, shelter incidents, protection of livestock and pet-on-pet aggression."
As risks and costs rose, the results would be fewer free clinics, fewer shelters, defensive veterinary medicine leading to higher prices, and "families, particularly lower-income families, will avoid preventive care for their pets, not seek needed care for ill or injured pets, and be more apt to euthanize a pet."
"To his dog," wrote Aldous Huxley, "every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs."
It would, however, be expensive, in myriad social costs, to create a novel tort action for loss of pet companionship.
So Texas' highest court has held that no Texas dog, however beloved, will be given an exalted status akin to that of an heirloom pistol and thereby becoming the subject of imprecise, arbitrary and potentially unlimited tort litigation.
By this judicial statesmanship, the trial bar was muzzled, for now, and denied a fresh arena for mischief.
So Texas' Supreme Court is, for now, man's best friend.
Will may be reached by email at georgew...@washpost.com.