Dog Custody in Divorce

Nancy Rogowski

            When married couples divorce, who gets to keep the dog?  Under the law, dogs are considered to be personal property, and no matter how loved dogs are, they are not treated like children under the law.  Many judges do not want to get involved in pet disputes. The family pet sometimes becomes a powerless victim of the breakup.  Recently, courts have been ruling dog custody at other forms than property.  In the New York Post on December 4, 2013 there was an article about a pair of divorcing women about to fight it out in court over a miniature dachshund named Joey.  It will be New York’s first matrimonial pet-custody case.  The attorney for one of the women, Sherri Donovan said, “It recognizes the special place of pets in our families.”  JoeyStanding.JPG

Manhattan Justice Matthew Cooper opines in his ruling granting the women oral arguments.  According to the article, the only bone of contention in their divorce is who will get sole custody of their 2-year-old pet, Joey.  One of the women gave Joey as a gift to the other women, which she claims always sleeps on her side of the bed.  Judge Cooper notes that New York law lags behind other states’ legal standing of their pets, and that “most pet owners would not trade their pets for even $1 million in cash.”  The judge will schedule a hearing to determine Joey’s fate, instead of regarding him like a piece of property.  Judge Cooper wants to hear the truth about who bore the major responsibility for meeting Joey’s needs.  He will be asking questions such as: “Who spent more time with Joey on a regular basis?”  The judge says, “…there is certainly room to give real consideration to a case involving a treasured pet.”  The parties are still working out a date for the hearing.  Continue reading

Thinking About Dogs

Bruce Wagman

I have had dogs on my mind lately.  They are the main players in many of my (and many animal lawyers’) cases, and they are the species I get the most calls about.  This week I had a call about a sheep owner shooting a roaming dog, with the caller wondering about the implication of the California statute that allows a livestock owner to shoot any dog on his land, even if the dog is nowhere near livestock, Cal. Food and Agric. Code section 31103, and the case that upheld the broad scope of that statute, Katsaris v. Cook, 180 Cal. App. 3d 256 (Cal. App. 1986).  I talked earlier in the year with a lawyer who convinced a court that her client’s dog breeding operation was a livestock facility, United States v. Park, 536 F.3d 1058 (9th Cir. 2008), on remand, 2009 WL 2949333 (D. Idaho).  The irony of that case seemed to escape everyone involved.  The issue in the case was whether this breeding operation could operate on land with a federal easement.  “Livestock operations” were allowed to do so.  So the interesting point of the ruling for me is the conclusion that breeders are in fact just like factory (livestock) farmers and others who operate commercial operations, use animals for profit, and in the short and long run contribute directly to the death of thousands of animals in shelters around the country.  When someone buys a dog from a breeder, they automatically kill a dog in a shelter who could have been saved – “buy one, get one killed,” as one of my t-shirts says.  The math is simple and can’t be denied; if a new dog if brought into the world for profit, and given to someone who has room for a dog, then that breed dog replaces the life of a dog in a shelter, who will then be gassed, injected or otherwise summarily wiped off the planet, dying sad and alone and wondering why.    Continue reading