The week in NJ animal news, court ruling, cruelty case, troubled zoo reopens

In what is likely a precedent setting case, the New Jersey Supreme Court found that the horror of watching an animal die is not the same as seeing a close relative killed.

In 2007 a Morris Plains woman witnessed her neighbor's dog kill her 9-year-old Maltese-poodle mix.

Joyce McDougall sued and a lower court awarded her $5,000 in damages for the value of the dog, but denied her claim of emotional distress.

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,” the New York Times reported.

McDougall had hoped to show that pet owners should be awarded damages for emotional distress, too.

But the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled last week that people's relationships with pets do not reach the same level as human relationships.

“The bond shared between humans and animals is often an emotional and enduring one. Permitting it to support a recovery for emotional distress, however, would require either that we vastly expand the classes of human relationships that would qualify for Portee damages or that we elevate relationships with animals above those we share with other human beings,” the court ruled, referring to a case, Portee v. Jaffee, that set out the rules. “We conclude that neither response to the question presented would be sound.”

McDougall’s lawyer said that the decision reflected a distrust of juries’ ability to dispense fair awards.

Some legal experts suggested state legislatures could seek legislative remedies to those who witness a beloved pet's violent death by establishing limits on emotional duress awards.

Without question, pets are playing an increasingly important role in people's lives. Witness the fact the Pennsylvania Bar Institute's offers animal law as part of its continuing educational programs in three locations across the state this summer as it has for nine years.

We clone our pets. We fight over them in divorce cases. We name them in our wills. We spend $50 billion on them when they are alive and stuff them when they die. But the bottom line in the court's ruling: pets are property.  Do you agree?


A New Jersey man was convicted of animal cruelty for attempting to poison a dog with antifreeze. Salvatore Ferruggia, of Verona, admitted to inflicting unnecessary cruelty for putting out a bowl of antifreeze to "deter" animals from entering his property.

Two residents were walking their dog in March when their dog walked over to a bowl of a green liquid and began drinking and shortly after became seriously ill.

The NJSPCA conducted a joint investigation with the Verona Police and found probable cause to issue four criminal and civil summonses against the property owner for trying to poison animals.

Antifreeze is an extremely hazardous substance that can cause severe damage to the internal organs and is potentially deadly to both animals and humans.  Also found at the curbside location was an unidentified treat laced with animal feces.

Under an agreement with prosecutors, Ferrugia plead guilty to two of the four charges and was ordered to pay $500 in fines, $250 for the investigation and reimburse the owners $263 for veterinary care for the dog who recovered.

Nine states, including Vermont, have enacted laws requiring manufacturers to add a substance that would make antifreeze more bitter and therefore less appealing to animals (thanks for noting this dawnm). No such bill has been introduced in Pennsylvania.


A problem-plagued New Jersey zoo - where two giraffes and more than 20 other animals died in a fire last year - has reopened amid ongoing criticism over its standards of care.

Animal Kingdom Zoo, in Burlington County, received more than 200 violation notices from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is charged with regulating and inspecting zoos, before the fire last October.

It reopened quietly this spring, but ran into trouble again when a monkey bit a two-year-old girl.

Animal Kingdom's owner, Burton Sipp, has a long history of run-ins with the law over his treatment of animals, including racehorses.

For more read the report by my colleague, Jan Heffler, in last week's Inquirer.