DENVER (AP) -- Several Colorado lawmakers are supporting legislation to elevate the status of cats and dogs from property to companions.
The measure would allow people in Colorado to sue veterinarians and animal abusers and seek damages for ''loss of companionship,'' up to $100,000.
Colorado has more than 2 million dogs and cats in 1.6 million households. Current law classifies them as property, and pet owners can seek only ''fair market value'' in a lawsuit.
If passed, it would be the first such companionship law in the nation, said lawyer Josh Pazour.
A related ordinance, making pet owners guardians so pets will not be seen as property, was recently passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. ''We're really trying to get to the heart of trying to treat animals more humanely and promote guardianship,'' said Matt Gonzalez, the board's president and chief sponsor of the ordinance.
Rob Eshelman, an aide to Gonzalez, has said Boulder was the first city to make pet owners guardians, followed by others including Berkeley and West Hollywood in California and the state of Rhode Island.
The Colorado measure is opposed by the state Veterinary Medical Association, which contends the proposed changes would increase the cost of veterinary care.
''Veterinarians will have to pass on to consumers the increased costs of doing businesses, including time spent responding to frivolous lawsuits and additional diagnostic tests that will now be required to practice defensive medicine,'' the association said in a statement to its members.
Colorado already is among 14 states legally recognizing dogs and cats as beneficiaries and allowing people to leave money and property to their pets.
''If you can leave something to your animal, they're obviously a status beyond property,'' said state Rep. Mark Cloer, the chief House sponsor of the companionship measure.
Republican Gov. Bill Owens, who owns a springer spaniel named Hannah, would not say if he would sign such a bill into law if it passes. But he added: ''Hannah is very much in favor'' of the bill.
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