Legal fields as divergent as family law, torts, contracts, and trusts have each, to varying degrees, addressed the unique legal status of pets. The rights and obligations of pet owners are a topic of increasing legal interest. Even the criminal law has grappled with the uniqueness of animals to a limited extent by criminalizing animal abuse. Legal developments such as these tend to ameliorate the anachronistic view that animals are merely property. However, substantial pockets of the law have not yet grappled with the unique status of animals as something more than property but, perhaps, less than human.
This Article is the first to analyze the operation of the criminal defenses — the doctrines of exculpation — for persons who use serious, and even lethal, force in defense of their pets. By exploring the intersection of criminal defenses and the status of animals, there is much to be learned about the ambiguities in our common law doctrines of exculpation and the status of animals in America. The Article is less an argument for greater animal rights (or increased violence) and more a call to understand how the law’s current treatment of pets and pet owners is discordant with our social values and in need of reassessment.