I was perusing the Family Law Professor’s Blog and he was quoting John DeWitt Gregory (Hofstra University School of Law) has posted “Pet Custody: Distorting Language and the Law” (Family Law Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 1, p. 35, 2010) on SSRN.
Apparently, Dewitt Gregory had this to say about the standard that should be used in evaluating who gets the pets. He feels that pets are property. Period. And using the “best interest of the pet” analysis, he feels does “violence” to well established precedents in custody/family law jurisprudence. Here’s the quote:
Pets or companion animals are the property of those who own them. In this article, I shall show that pets that are the subject of disputes between divorcing spouses or separating unmarried couples should continue to be characterized as property under a rational legal system. Proposals in the law review literature and halting, early attempts by some courts to place pets in some category other than property, which flirted with a standard derived from the prevailing best-interest-of-the-child doctrine in conventional child custody and visitation cases, are, at best, vanity. Such proposals do violence to both the language and the law of child custody, create uncertainty in a well-established area of divorce law, and offer no discernible prospect of improving the welfare of companion animals.
I don’t know if I agree. My cat was my baby. He was not property. He was my baby. I am willing to bet that Dewitt didn’t have a cat or a dog. But I get his point because where does it stop? Next we are fighting over fish and hamsters and rabbits and birds. Where does it stop? Now a court has to use judicial resources to fight over custody of a bird? Or a fish? (Heck, some people have gaters as pets, or snakes, or god only knows what else.)
It is administratively impractical to treat pets as actual children. Well, maybe the law could be that we treat cats and dogs as children, and everything else as property. How’s that?
What do you think? Are pets property? Or are they like our children who should be given due process and who should go to the “parent” who can best meet their “best interest” standard? And if they should be treated like children, how does the court go about appointing counsel for the pets? It’s not like the court can give a fish a law guardian, is it?
Maybe Dewitt is right. Maybe we have no choice but to treat pets as property. Which is almost “violent” for me to say. Because I loved my cat so much. He was not property to me. He was my baby. My sweet, ray of sunshine. I am sure there are many others who feel this way about their pets as well.
What do you think about this?