Dogs Are Considered Property in New York, Which Prevents Higher Fines for Crimes

Posted by Allie Layos

Instead of prosecuting the woman who ran over his dog, this man decided to prove that dogs aren't property.

It was a beautiful summer day in New York City until 73-year-old Yves-Claude Arbour's dog was run over by an oblivious motorist.

He was crossing Lafayette Street with his five-year-old Havanese, Sammie, when an antsy driver began to inch forward in anticipation of the light changing. Unfortunately she ran right over Sammie, and sped off as soon as the light turned green.

Luckily it was only Sammie's paw that made contact with the wheel, but Arbour rushed her to Blue Pearl Animal Hospital on 15th Street. He also called the police, but quickly faced the reality of the law when the police said they were unsure how to prosecute the woman.

Yves-Claude Arbour via New York Post

In New York state, dogs are legally considered property, not sentient beings. The most someone can be charged for a first-time offense of leaving the scene after injuring an animal is $100, or $150 for a repeat offender -- less than a repeat littering offense.

Charles Mirisola, a Manhattan-based negligence attorney, runs into this problem often.

"Unfortunately, even though so many people now consider their dogs family members, under New York state law they are simply property,'' he said in an interview with the New York Post.

After learning this, Arbour decided not to go after the woman who had hit Sammie.

"I realized there was no real point in chasing the driver other than to confront her,'' he said. "If I took her to small claims court, they would only give me the value of replacing her, like replacing a toaster.''

Instead, he chose to form a nonprofit organization called Dogs Are Not Toasters (DANT), to combat the larger issue. In 2015, France and New Zealand changed their laws to recognize dogs as sentient beings, and an Oregon court did the same this past summer. Arbour is hoping New York will be next. He's started a petition, which already has nearly 500 signatures, and plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to hire lobbyists and lawyers.

Four days in the hospital and $11,000 later, Sammie has recovered from her ordeal, but Arbour said this campaign reaches far beyond his own dog.

"If dogs were recognized as sentient beings, they would be protected from a number of modern day issues, such as puppy mills, grooming injuries or deaths, improper medical care, inhumane scientific studies, and vehicle hit-and-runs," Arbour said.

"This is not about Sammie. It's about changing the law.''

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Dogs Are Considered Property in New York, Which Prevents Higher Fines for Crimes