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Provincial Court of British Columbia: how do you divide the dog?

When parties separate, who gets to keep the family pet?  I know in my family, if things take a turn, a live issue will be who gets to keep Darryl Murray, the red standard poodle.

"Who wouldn't want to celebrate Christmas with me?"

In a decision of the British Columbia Provincial Court, the Honourable Judge S.D. Frame considerd a claim made by a man who wanted the court to make a declaration of ownership in a boarder collie named Laddie.  The man also sought specified access with the collie.

The Court held that the man did not have an ownership interest in Laddie:

By anthropomorphizing this dog, Ms. MacDonald led Mr. Kitchen to, and Mr. Kitchen allowed himself to be possessed of an expectation that, the dog was “the child” of both of them.  This, however, despite the sentimental aspects, does not create a beneficial or legal interest in a dog.

The Vancouver Sun ran an article on Sunday about this case and notes the Ontario Superior Court of Justice case of Warnica v. Gering (metioned in Judge Frame’s decision).  In that case, the court dismisses a custody claim for a dog, finding that the court should not make custody orders for pets, despite pets being important to people’s lives:

Whether in the Family Court or otherwise, I do not believe that any court should be in the business of making custody orders for pets, disguised or otherwise. To the extent that any of my colleagues may feel otherwise, I respectfully disagree. Obviously, I acknowledge that pets are of great importance to human beings. Strong bonds develop between them and the human beings that look after them. To some people, the relationship with their pets takes on a significance exceeding that of any other. They go to extraordinary lengths to preserve that relationship; even at a cost that some would say is disproportionate. Some may consider them to be children; however, they are not children.

In the Alberta case of Boschee v. Duncana wife claimed $200 per month to support her husband’s St. Bernard dog (in addition to claiming $1500.00 per month in spousal support). The wife argued that she required pet support to cover the veterinary costs and the costs of feeding and caring for the dog after her husband left the dog in her care. The court found that a St. Bernand dog costs more to maintain and feed than the usual smaller variety.   In that case, the court ruled that $200 per month was a reasonable sum to compensate the wife for the time and expense required to look after her husband’s dog and ordered him to pay this as a dog maintenance cost.

So who gets to keep the family pet? That should be up to you and your former partner to come to an agreement on – not for a court to decide.

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