Is It Emotional Distress to Watch Your Pet Get Killed?

In 2007, Joyce McDougall watched in horror as Angel, her nine-year-old dog, a Maltese-Poodle mix, was mauled to death by her neighbor’s dog. The New York Times reported on New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this week. The court denied that watching one’s dog be killed is emotional distress, since the dog was not a family member or someone to whom she had a “marital-like bond.”

The New York Times article reported, “Under New Jersey law, people can sue for damages for emotional distress if they see someone close to them die, the court said. The right had been limited to close family members, and was recently expanded by courts to people with a marital-like bond.”

McDougall was awarded $5,000 in replacement value of Angel, but emotional distress damages were denied in the courthouse and in appeals.

I find it ironic that we train service dogs to be emotional assistance dogs for people with emotional distress, but if we watch our dog gets killed by another dog, it’s not considered to be emotional distress.

What do you think? Did the court rule fairly? Thanks for voicing your opinion with a comment and taking our poll below.


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Jo S.
Jo S1 years ago

Thank you.

Myriam Derome
Myriam Derome4 years ago

I think if it was an emotional distress service dog already, it would have been declared close enough, for the sake of proving that her feelings were strong enough to a court, but I would have erred on the safe side. The entire purpose of a pet is to provide an emotional anchor, and it's incredibly callous to claim that all animals fail at this purpose unless legally designated otherwise. On the other hand, there would be a lot of damages paid out, and potential abuses of the system, unless they based their statements on a psych evaluation. Really, you'd think there'd be a psych evaluation for ALL cases of distress, and having it be the sole deciding factor - if someone didn't give a stuff that their dad died, but still tries to claim a payoff, what does that mean? And doesn't our treatment of police officers who kill people in the line of duty mean that we treat ALL death as job-stopping levels of emotional distress, regardless of source? Eh.

Alan Lambert
Alan Lambert4 years ago

When I was a tween, we lost a dog that was an unrepentant car chaser. The only thing we could have done to break him of it would be to keep him tied up 24/7 and that was not an option. It was a hard thing, but as a youngster, I got over it.

Jennifer P.
Jennifer P5 years ago

How can anyone else possibly judge how a person feels when their pet is killed??? These people who think they know it all did not create me and would know nothing of how I would feel in such a case. Quite frankly, married couples are not relatives and signing a paper in front of a witness does not make them so. Therefore, they could be technically considered as non-family members. So how it is that a pet is considered any less of a family member than a spouse, a partner, or an adopted child? Denying this emotional bond between many humans and their pet is just stupid! Also, if you can sue over emotional distress for any other loss then for the loss of loved animal should be no different. There's no need to be hypocrites!

Tara B.
Tara B5 years ago

Although I can't think of anything more emotionally distressful than the death of a child or pet, I also don't believe that people should be able to sue for emotional distress at all. I've always found that law really stupid.

Also stupid that it makes a distinction between friends and family, and between seeing the death take place or not. In my experience being there and seeing someone die is in the long run easier to deal with than hearing about it from someone else, or coming home to find a pet dead unexpectedly.

Susan A.
Susan A5 years ago

Of course it's emotional distress...many pets are considered another loved one in the family!!

Cheryl I.
Past Member 5 years ago


Karyl Wood
Karyl Wood5 years ago

We live in a society where people want to sue someone over every little thing. No amount of money can bring back your dead pet.

Elaine A.
Elaine Al Meqdad5 years ago

God forbid one of my fur children ever got out and I saw it get killed, it would be time for me to be institutionalized! Thank God I never let them out except with me on the balcony as my Condo is an upstairs one and they know the rules...NO jumping up on the railing. My balcony is pretty large so they just sit on the bistro chairs or sun bathe on the floor.

Debbie Voelker
Debbie Voelker5 years ago

Losing a pet is as painful as losing a child and I've experienced both. What made it even harder was the fact that I had to make the decision to put my dog down after months of watching her suffer agonizing days and nights, no medication could give her relief...she had bone cancer and it was slowly eating her away..I kept asking my vet how will I know when it's time...I didn't want to be selfish and keep her alive because I wasn't ready to let her go, but at the same time she wasn't able to verbalize how she was feeling and what SHE vet kept saying, "You'll just know", I spent every second of each day trying to make her as comfortable as possible, bringing her food and water to her, brushing her, petting her, telling her how much I loved her and what a good girl she was. Finally, it got to a point that she wouldn't get up at all, even to go to the bathroom..she would whimper and attempt to sit up, we would carry her to the backyard and hold her while she did her business (the cancer was very bad in her hind legs and being that she was a 110 pound rottweiler, this was not an easy task since she couldn't support her own weight anymore). I knew the time was coming but still I was torn..she slept with me every night and I'd talk to her, asking her to please let me know when she was ready, when she felt like she couldn't handle it anymore and from the look in her eyes, she knew what I was saying..I could just feel it in my heart. One night, she just sat up, somethi