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Determining your pet's worth

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What is a pet's emotional value?
One way to determine the emotional value of a pet is to figure out what an owner is willing to spend on it. The cost of food, toys and veterinary bills can be used to prove that a pet is more valued than another piece of property. "If the owner spends $100 to bring the pet to a vet, if the pet were just strictly an asset, it wouldn't make sense for the owner to do that. The cat's not worth $100," says Liuzzo. "But somehow, given the high numbers of people that do spend money on veterinary bills and who buy cats and dogs premium cat and dog food, implicitly then we can calculate the value of the cat or the dog to the pet's owner."

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Other factors could also clue one in to the emotional value of a pet. A family that pays to take a pet with it on vacation or one that pays a pet deposit at an apartment complex shows, again, through the amount of money it spends annually on the animal, what that pet is worth to that family. Likewise, family photos that include pets and evidence of people carrying pets on daily outings also suggest that the pet is more than a piece of property.

Adding up the amount a pet owner has spent on a pet in a given year can give courts a monetary figure to work with when determining financial recompense. For example, if an owner spent an average of $1,000 per year on a dog and he had the dog for five years, $5,000 might be a reasonable way to measure the value of the dog, according to Liuzzo's argument.

Is a pet more than property?
From a legal point of view, a pet's value is determined by the animal's commercial contribution to the owner and its emotional contribution. Figuring out the commercial value is easy, but the emotional value is more subjective. Here are some considerations:
How much is an owner willing to spend annually? (In 2006 Americans spent nearly $39 billion on pet food, vets and other services.)
Does the pet travel on vacation with the owner?
Does the pet go to day care or have a regular sitter?
Does the pet participate in daily chores and entertainment? ("Take your dog to work day" was June 22.)
Does the owner pay a pet deposit at an apartment?
Is the pet provided for in a will?
Does the pet have insurance?

Setting precedents
Coming up with a new way to measure a pet's value and convincing the court system to adhere to that view are two distinct matters. However, the legal system has become more pet-friendly over the years, says Gina Calogero, an Oradell, N.J.-based attorney who specializes in animal law.

Next: "It was a family member, but it wasn't a human being."
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