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decided: April 26, 1897.



Author: Brown

[ 166 U.S. Page 700]

 MR. JUSTICE BROWN, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

This case turns upon the constitutionality of a law of the State of Louisiana requiring dogs to be placed upon the assessment rolls, and limiting any recovery by the owner to the value fixed by himself for the purpose of taxation.

The dog in question was a valuable Newfoundland bitch, registered in the American Kennel's stud-book, and was kept by her owner for breeding purposes. It seems that while following him in a walk upon the streets, she stopped on the track of the railroad company, and, being otherwise engaged for the moment, failed to notice the approach of an electric car which was coming toward her at great speed; and, being moreover heavy with young, and not possessed of her usual agility, she was caught by the car and instantly killed. The Court of Appeals was evidently of opinion that her owner, knowing of her condition, should not have taken her upon a public thoroughfare without exercising the greatest care and vigilance, and that the accident was largely due to a want of prudence upon his part. The facts, however, were not properly before the court, and the opinion was put upon the ground that the state law was constitutional and valid as a police regulation to prevent the indiscriminate owning and breeding of worthless dogs. The judges also annexed a certificate that the decision was reversed upon the ground that the law was constitutional, and that no other point was passed upon.

By the common law, as well as by the law of most, if not all, the States, dogs are so far recognized as property that an action will lie for their conversion or injury, 2 Bl. Com. 393; Cummings v. Perham, 1 Met. 555; Kinsman v. State, 77 Indiana, 132; State v. McDuffie, 34 N.H. 523; Parker v. Mise, 27 Alabama, 480; Wheatley v. Harris, 4 Sneed, 468; Dodson v. Mock, 4 Dev. & Bat. 146; Perry v. Phipps, 10 Ired. Law, 259; Lentz v. Stroh, 6 S. & R. 33; although, in the absence of a statute, they are not regarded as the subjects of

[ 166 U.S. Page 701]

     larceny. 2 Bish. New Crim. Law, ยง 773; Case of Swans, 7 Coke, 86, 91; Norton v. Ladd, 5 N.H. 204; Findlay v. Bear, 8 S. & R. 571; People v. Campbell, 4 Parker C.C. 386; State v. Doe, 79 Indiana, 9; Ward v. State, 48 Alabama, 161; State v. Lymus, 26 Ohio St. 400; State v. Holder, 81 N.C. 527.

The very fact that they are without the protection of the criminal laws shows that property in dogs is of an imperfect or qualified nature, and that they stand, as it were, between animals feroe naturoe in which until killed or subdued, there is no property, and domestic animals, in which the right of property is perfect and complete. They are not considered as being upon the same plane with horses, cattle, sheep and other domesticated animals, but rather in the category of cats, monkeys, parrots, singing birds and similar animals kept for pleasure, curiosity or caprice. They have no intrinsic value, by which we understand a value common to all dogs as such, and independent of the particular breed or individual. Unlike other domestic animals, they are useful neither as beasts of burden, for draught (except to a limited extent), nor for food. They are peculiar in the fact that they differ among themselves more widely than any other class of animals, and can hardly be said to have a characteristic common to the entire race. While the higher breeds rank among the noblest representatives of the animal kingdom, and are justly esteemed for their intelligence, sagacity, fidelity, watchfulness, affection, and, above all, for their natural companionship with man, others are afflicted with such serious infirmities of temper as to be little better than a public nuisance. All are more or less subject to attacks of hydrophobic madness.

As it is practically impossible by statute to distinguish between the different breeds, or between the valuable and the worthless, such legislation as has been enacted upon the subject, though nominally including the whole canine race, is really directed against the latter class, and is based upon the theory that the owner of a really valuable dog will feel sufficient interest in him to comply with any reasonable regulation designed to distinguish him from the common herd. Acting upon the principle that there is but a qualified property

[ 166 U.S. Page 702]

     in them, and that, while private interests require that the valuable ones shall be protected, public interests demand that the worthless shall be exterminated, they have, from time immemorial, been considered as holding their lives at the will of the legislature, and properly falling within the police powers of the several States. Laws for the protection of domestic animals are regarded as having but a limited application to dogs and cats; and, regardless of statute, a ferocious dog is looked upon as hostis humani generis, and as having no right to his life which man is bound to respect. Putnam v. Payne, 13 Johns. 312; Hinckley v. Emerson, 4 Cow. 351; Brown v. Carpenter, 26 Vermont, 638; Woolf v. Chalker, 31 Connecticut, 121; Brent v. Kimball, 60 Illinois, 211; Maxwell v. Palmerton, 21 Wend. 407.

Statutes of the general character of the one in question have been enacted in many of the States, and their constitutionality, though often attacked, has been generally, if not universally, upheld. Thus in Tower v. Tower, 18 Pick. 262, an act which authorized "any person to kill any dog or dogs found, and being without a collar," was construed to authorize the killing of a dog out of the enclosure of his owner, although he was under his immediate care, and this was known to the person killing the dog.

In Morey v. Brown, 42 N.H. 373, a statute providing that no person should be liable for killing a dog found without a collar with the name of the owner engraved thereon, was held to justify the killing, although the defendant had actual notice of the ownership of the dog found without such collar. Plaintiff claimed that the act was unconstitutional, but the court held that it was not an act to take private property for public use, or to deprive parties of their property in dogs; but merely to regulate the use and keeping of such property in a manner which seemed to the legislature reasonable and expedient. "It is a mere police regulation, such as we think the ...

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