WHO WILL WIN CUSTODY OF A PET DOG? CANADIAN FAMILY LAW JUDGE ANSWERS
FIGHTING OVER CUSTODY OF A PET IS STANDARD PROCEDURE FOR A LOT OF COUPLES THESE DAYS. ARE YOU ONE OF THOSE COUPLES?
Fighting over who will or should win custody of a pet in your divorce case? Justice Richard Danyliuk of the Court of Queen’s Bench for Saskatchewan has ruled against a woman who wanted him to impose a visitation and custody order for the 3 dogs she shared with her soon to be ex husband. In a 15 page ruling, the judge explained his reluctance to go down the slippery slope of treating animals as dissimilar from other types of property – including butter knives. In his view, dogs are not and must never be treated as human beings in a court of law. In a word, he found the whole idea “ridiculous” and admonished the parties for “wasting judicial resources” by bringing the case. According to his Decision the judge wrote:
In a justice system that is incredibly busy, where delay has virtually become systemic, where there are cases involving child welfare and family matters that wait months for adjudication, these parties have chosen to throw this dispute into the mix. I am sure that to them, this is the most important matter. But it must be kept in perspective and measured against other matters, many of which inarguably are of more importance. The foundational rules in our Queen’s Bench Rules speak to proportionality and reasonableness. Parties are bound by those rules. To consume scarce judicial resources with this matter is wasteful. In my view, such applications should be discouraged.
This ruling of course is consistent with many in various other parts of the world but inconsistent with other jurisdictions who are slowly beginning to acknowledge that animals are different from other types of property and therefore who have been exploring judicial options for litigants. Indeed, it is increasingly recognized that custody of a pet is a real question and that for many people, pets are part of the family in a way that a couch just can never be.
In this Canadian case however, the judge was just not having it. He said the following:
I say without reservation that the prospect of treating pets as children would be treated holds absolutely no attraction for me. I say this cognizant that many dog owners, perhaps most of them, choose to treat the family dog not as property but as family. Certainly that is what these parties did. But that choice does not alter the law that pets are property. My present task is not to act with emotion or to validate the personal perspective of pet owners within the legal context. Rather, it is to interpret
2016 SKQB 282 (CanLII)
– 7 –
and then apply the law. And for legal purposes, there can be no doubt: Dogs are property.
 Granted, dogs and other pets are treated somewhat differently than other personal property. Statutory protection for pets exists to prevent them from being treated with cruelty or neglect. On a practical level, most people do not see their pet as something to be discarded or sold on Kijiji when they are done with it. While that is true, and while there is a distinction between animals and inanimate objects, it is also true that both are property and are not dealt with under child custody principles. Dogs are routinely bred and sold for profit.