Of Mice and Men… and dogs and cats and goldfish
John Steinbeck’s classic novel, “Of Mice and Men,” is the story of a retarded man, Lennie, which takes place during the Great Depression. While having little to do with dogs, cats or goldfish, the tale does prominently feature rabbits (including a giant rabbit Lennie dreams about) and a puppy (which, unfortunately, Lennie kills). Beside borrowing the title, the puppy is really the only link to this column. I will mention nary another word about rabbits, giant or otherwise below. But let me circle back to that and first pose this question, are your dogs, cats and goldfish really cattle?Well, yes. In a lame and twisted sort of way.It seems I have some ‘splaining to do. Bear with me.As you know, man’s best friend, we are often told, is a dog. For creativity’s sake, let’s call yours Fido or Spot or some such thing. Fido or Spot is, accordingly, your comrade, compadre, pal, companion and, probably way too often, your closest confidant. Dogs rarely spill the beans of whatever confession with which you have entrusted them which commends to them certain privileges of open discourse. But, other than the four legs, a wet nose, mat of fur and lolling tongue, your and Fido’s (or Spot’s) friendship is unique in other ways as well. Let’s come back to that later too. For now, just hang in there; it will, hopefully, make a least a modicum of sense by the time you get to the small print at the bottom.First, let’s consider friendship. Since I’ve been asking for your patience, I’ll indulge your pondering a moment or two. Okay, done pondering? Let’s try and get our arms around the concept. A “friend” is, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, a person whom one knows, likes and trusts. Short and elegant, isn’t it? You’ll note, however, that exception is not made for associations of the four-legged kind. A friend, the dictionary tells us, is a “person.” Yikes! What, then, to make of Fido (or Spot)? Certainly, he or she, by definition alone, cannot, despite the folk wisdom we’ve been imparted, be your best friend. By the application of simple theorems of reason then, Fido, Spot or your cat or goldfish must be something else. But what?Well, cattle.Say what?Cattle.You see, at law, there are two broad divisions of property: real or personal. “Real property” is immovable. “Personal property” is moveable. The term “real property” connotes land and whatever is erected, growing upon or affixed to it. In simple terms, “personal” property is everything else which is susceptible to being owned. You will note the penumbra of the word in the terms “realty,” “real estate,” and “Realtor.” Personal property includes money, goods, chattles, things in action and evidences of debt. Money, goods and evidences are familiar and should be largely self-explanatory. But what of “things in action” and “chattles?”Admittedly, “things in action” doesn’t sound like much of a self-respecting legal term. But, alas, it is. A “thing in action” is a right to recover money or other personal property by judicial action. A “thing” at law is, by the way, objects of dominion or property as distinguished from a person. Thus, a thing can be controlled or owned. Another, more high-falutin’ name for a thing in action is a “chose in action,” a “chose,” being defined at law as a “thing.” There’s a certain pleasing circularity here, don’t you think? In any event, a thing is a chose is a thing and a thing is an object which can be owned or controlled and is not a person. A thing or chose “in action” is something which is something sort of up in the air; there is a right to recover it but the right must be perfected by the exercise of legal proceedings and judicial determination.Whew!But what about “chattles?”Chattle is derived of the word “cattle.” A “chattle” is an article of personal property as opposed to real property (that is, land and what is affixed to it, remember?). A chattle is, accordingly, property which is personal and moveable. There are a whole passel of chattles, among them “personal chattles” (personal property which has no connection to real estate), “real chattles” (an interest in real estate but not the whole ownership in the real estate itself), “chattle liens” (an interest held in favor of a person by reason of his or her labor, skills or materials), “chattle mortgages” (a pre-Uniform Commercial Code security device) and “chattle paper” (a written instrument which evidences both a monetary obligation and a security interest in a lease or specific goods).But, cats, dogs and goldfish, remember?Well, except in a very few pockets of enlightenment (or, some might say, bizarreness) cats, dogs, goldfish, gerbils, pot-bellied pigs and any host of critters you call pets, are plain vanilla chattles. Legally, at least (with notable exceptions such as the Republic of Boulder where you are your pet’s “guardian,” thus conferred certain inalienable rights on Fido/Spot), your pets are, sadly, not your friends. They are your property, to be owned, transferred and disposed of as you wish. There are some limitations thought, like animal cruelty laws. But, setting those limits aside, you can thank Fido/Spot for his or her unquestioning devotion, by shuffling him/ her off like a used Honda.Geesh! What a way to treat a friend…Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. Robbins lectures for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics. He may be heard at 7 p.m. Wednesdays on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Reach Robbins at 926.4461 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado
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Lindsey Vonn no longer has a home in Vail, but a big piece of her heart will always remain here.