In recent weeks, the euthanasia of a dog in Virginia made national news. This story went viral due to the unique circumstances surrounding why it happened: the Shih-Tzu mix, Emma, was euthanized due to a specific provision in her owner’s will. It was her wish that at her death, her dog be put down and laid to rest with her. The staff at Chesterfield County Animal Shelter insist that Emma was perfectly healthy and even offered to rehome her, but the Executor of the deceased owner’s estate declined.

For many, it brings up the question of ‘how did this happen?’ While morally controversial, the Executor’s actions were legal because Emma was classified as personal property in the state of Virginia. In California, pets are personal property too.

For many of us, our pets are considered to be family members. Last year, California became the third state in the country to acknowledge this through the creation of pet-specific laws, following similar ones introduced in Alaska and Illinois during 2016 and 2017.

On September 27, 2018, Jerry Brown signed AB 2274, which recognizes companion animals as a unique kind of personal property. Starting on the 1st of January 2019, the courts now handle ‘pet custody’ to split time between both ‘parents,’ and can even order a temporary guardian for your dog or cat in the case that permanent ownership has not yet been decided by a judge.

What were the Virginia woman’s other options?

She could have nominated, and even provided compensation to, a friend or family member to act as a guardian for Emma. In the coming years when Emma became older and/or fell ill, the owner could have written in her Will that the dog should be euthanized and placed with her at the time.

What are my options?

Regardless of what others choose to do with their pets after their death, it’s important to know that you do have ways of protecting yours. To ensure that they are best cared for, there are many things that you can ask your estate planning attorney about, such as:

1)         Naming guardian(s) and back-ups

2)         Setting money aside for the guardian for care and maintenance of the pet

3)         Creating a trust fund for pet insurance

4)         Specifying provisions/limitations/guidelines to ensure maximum comfort

Ex: This specific individual may only remain guardian of my dog as long as they do not have more than three other pets already living in the home; as long as they never declaw my cat; etc.

In the way you would prepare your estate to accommodate your children after your passing, you could do the same for your pets.

Happy Planning!


The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Brittany Britton is licensed to practice law in the state of California only.

Related links to check out:

Full story on the euthanasia of Shih-Tzu mix Emma in Virginia:

Articles referencing pet-property laws in California

“California’s New ‘Pet Custody’ Law Differentiates Companion Animals from Other Types of Property”:

“California Law: Animals Are Not ‘Replaceable’ Property” (2012 Case Study):

Virginia Code classifying pets as personal property:

“Code of Virginia § 3.2-6585. Dogs and cats deemed personal property; rights relating thereto.”

Resource on animal euthanasia laws by state: