I had to say goodbye to Tiga, my darling dog, last week. She was fourteen years old and had been by my side almost her entire life and I miss her terribly. When we got her she was covered in fleas and ticks, had hookworms and an upper respiratory infection, and was skin and bones. We fed her, loved her, and fixed her up and in return she was the most devoted, loving, protective, loveliest friend a girl could have. And even though I know I was lucky to have her by my side for so long, it’s still hard to start and end each day without seeing her sweet face.
So, in honor of my adorable pooch, I wanted to dedicate this week’s post to the pets of some of my favorite science fiction and comic book heroes…
There aren’t a lot of pets in science fiction and superhero stories, although there are a few prominent ones that come to mind. My favorite is Woola, the Martian “dog” that John Carter befriends shortly after landing on Mars. Robert Heinlein incorporated pets into some of his sci fi books, including a cool snake in Stranger in a Strange Land and the titular cat from The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (his second best book, in my opinion, after The Moon is a Harsh Mistress).
In Star Wars, my favorite pet has to be the annoying creature, Crumb, that Jabba keeps as a pet (or court jester), who reminds me of a cross between a chihuahua, a monkey, and a crow (I had a pet crow once – it was awesome). Of course, the rancor that ate the dancer in Return of the Jedi was also apparently Jabba’s pet, but he’s not cute or funny.
As a child, Spock had a popular Vulcan pet named I-Chaya, a six-legged carnivore known as a sehlat. And, of course, it’s thanks to Star Trek that we have the adorable but dangerously fruitful Tribble.
Through the years Superman’s had a loyal friend in Krypto. Krypto was also from Krypton and, therefore, once he reached Earth, he had powers similar to that of Superman.
Finally, it being science fiction, the pets are sometimes robots. Most notably, in Dr. Who there is frequently a robot dog named K-9. And K-9 can actually shoot lasers out of his nose, which is pretty freakin’ cool.
So pets are important, not just to me and millions of other humans, but even to space and time travelers. How does the law protect our pets?
Caring for pets: Everyone’s heard the story about the millionaire who dies and leaves their fortune to their beloved pet. It happens often and courts will allow it. Generally, of course, pets are considered property so it’s difficult to leave money directly to the pet. Instead, the will can establish a caretaker for the pet and leave money to that person for care of the pet. Another option, however, that’s available in most states is to actually create a trust for the pet.
Hurting pets: A few years ago, people were horrified by a man, consumed with road rage, who tore a woman’s dog out of her lap and threw the dog onto a busy freeway, killing the dog. In that case, the man was charged with animal abuse and faced years in prison. Pets are still property, so claims for property damage are also possible, although many courts have recognized that a pet’s value is more than what would ordinarily attach to property. As a result, pet owners have been allowed to recover costs representing medical costs and the intrinsic value of the pet.
Suffering the loss of a pet: Several years ago the Washington Court of Appeals decided that a pet owner could recover emotional distress damages for malicious injuries to their pets. The New Jersey Supreme Court, on the other hand, recently rejected an attempt to create a new cause of action for emotional distress for witnessing the death of a pet. McDougall v. Lamm, 211 N.J. 203, 227, 48 A.3d 312, 326 (N.J. 2012). In doing so, it noted that most courts have rejected such attempts because of concerns about opening the door for other types of personal property losses, the difficulty of determining who could recover and for what types of animals, and the challenges in evaluating damages for such a subjective loss.
Losing a pet is never easy, and sometimes can be incredibly difficult. I’m not ready to turn in living, breathing, furry pets for a robot companion just yet, but the pain of saying goodbye to a dear friend makes me understand the appeal of a robot pet.