Should a Judge Issue a Parenting Time Order for a Dog

Dogs are not children and most jurisdictions hold dogs are property to be divided up in the case of divorce. “Dogs are wonderful creatures,” read the first line of a ruling from a Canadian judge.

Over the next paragraph, the judge continued singing the praises of man’s best friend:  Dogs are often highly intelligent, he wrote. Sensitive. Active. Constant and faithful companions.“Many dogs are treated as members of the family with whom they live,” the judge noted. But, none of that matters when it comes to the court of law, concluded Justice Richard Danyliuk of the Court of Queen’s Bench for Saskatchewan. At least not in his court of law.

How much is a pet dog worth? A court will soon decide. “After all is said and done, a dog is a dog,” Judge Danyliuk wrote in an August ruling that was recently reported by CBC News. “At law it is property, a domesticated animal that is owned. At law it enjoys no familial rights.” Judge Danyliuk would spend 15 more pages outlining why — in this case of a divorcing couple arguing over what would become of their pets — the court could not treat the dogs in question as “children.

”The case landed in court after the wife argued that she should keep their three dogs — 13-year-old Quill, 9-year-old Kenya and 2-year-old Willow — while allowing for visitation rights of an hour-and-a-half at a time to her soon-to-be ex-husband. Judge Danyliuk noted that the woman’s request was “more akin to an interim custody disposition than it is to a property order” and that he could not comply, because for legal purposes, dogs must be treated as property.

But, is there harm in judges at least attempting to settle dog conflict in a divorce? In a case a few years ago there was bitter conflict about who would get custody of the dog. The Minnesota factors about child custody are totally meaningless when it comes to placing the dog. There is the King Solemn approach, “The dog is property! If  you cannot agree I will order the dog sold and divide the cash.” It might work, but it is a bit brutal. The market for “used” dogs is often pretty thin. There is the, “We Will Have a Dog  Custody Trial” approach. Each party prior to trial is ordered to the local animal humane society to view the homeless animals (who knows…one party may fall in love with a kitten). The dog is ordered to attend the trial and the parties are told, “Your lawyer does not have to attend” (lawyers cost money), but each party will be able to demonstrate in court the dog’s wishes by showing just how well the dog responds to their commands. It sounds ridiculous…and it works. The parties inevitably settle rather than risk never seeing their pet.  

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