By Lorraine Mirabella For LA Times.com

A Maryland couple sues the sheriff’s office after their Labrador is shot by deputies. Legal experts say such cases are on the rise as pets are coming to be viewed as more than property — at home and in court.

Sheriff’s deputies knocked on Roger and Sandra Jenkins’ front door early one Saturday to serve a court paper to the couple’s teenage son. Within minutes, a chaotic scene unfolded, and the family’s chocolate Labrador retriever had been shot by one of the deputies and had collapsed bleeding in the snow.

The dog survived, but its owners say it is permanently disabled. The couple sued the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office in October, alleging reckless endangerment and infliction of emotional distress.

The case highlights the rapidly evolving field of animal law, which is growing as people insist that pets are not property, but part of the family.

“The common law is that a dog is just chattel — a piece of property that’s easily replaced,” said Rebekah Lusk, an associate attorney with the Thienel Law Firm in Columbia, Md., who handles animal law cases and represents Roger and Sandra Jenkins. “People focusing on animal law are saying the courts need to see animals as not just a replacement piece of property.”

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