Washington attorney William Burleson so loved his dog, a spirited, red-haird chow named Pirate, that he used to take the pet with him whenever he flew outside Washington on a case. When Burleson flew his own plane, Pirate went along too, sitting next to him, almost like a copilot. The regal-looking animal held court in Burleson's office on Pennsylvania Avenue; he knew all of Burleson's clients and they knew him.
But this partnership was prematurely broken in 1973 when Burleson's car, with Pirate in it, was struck by another car, and the dog was severely injured. Pirate developed traumatic glaucoma and went blind, never again to be the same companion to his master.
Yesterday, without comment, the Supreme Court refused to hear Burleson's pleas for damages for the emotional anguish and loss of companionship he says he suffered when Pirate's sight was lost.
"This is what the Civil War was fought about -- the right of an owner to have value on his property," said the North Carolina-born Burleson, in a heavy drawl. Burleson himself in the hospital yesterday recovering from a throat infection when he got the bad news.
A man's relationship with his dog can be such, Burleson argued, that the man -- and the dog -- should be entitled to "everything a human would get" in such a tragic case as his.
Pirate was staying at a friend's home in Alexandria yesterday while Burleson is in the hospital. Pirate is now, Burleson said, a shadow of his former outgoing, amiable self -- a result of the "personality changes" the dog underwent after the accident. His eyeballs have turned black, he is ill-tempered much of the time and barely has an appetite, Burleson said.
Now 12 years old, Pirate spends much of his time at an Alexandria veterinarian's with other dogs, who are similarly blind, for companionship.
A few years back, a D.C. Superior Court judge presiding at Burleson's traffic accident case awarded him $600 in damages for his car and $200 for the value of his dog. The award was upheld in the D.C. Court of Appeals. But Burleson argues that the lower courts were wrong not to compensate him additionally for his own pain and suffering brought about by Pirate's injuries. It was on that point that the Supreme Court refused to review the case.