Halifax court muses about pets’ rights, needs in cus­tody bat­tle over dog

Cape Breton Post - - Cape Breton / Province -

A Halifax ad­ju­di­ca­tor is lament­ing that the law treats pets as chat­tels, mus­ing aloud about a more per­fect world in which they could be rec­og­nized as liv­ing, feel­ing crea­tures with rights and needs.

Eric Slone, an ad­ju­di­ca­tor with Nova Sco­tia’s small claims court, wrote wist­fully about the na­ture of hu­mans’ re­la­tion­ship with their pets in a rul­ing that awarded cus­tody of a nine-yearold, mixed-breed dog named Lily.

Slone noted he has de­cided other such cases and was be­ing forced to rule again on who gets cus­tody of a fam­ily pet be­cause there is nowhere else for peo­ple to go with such dis­putes.

“In a more per­fect world there would be special laws rec­og­niz­ing pets as liv­ing, feel­ing crea­tures with rights to be looked af­ter by those who best meet their needs or in­ter­ests, and there would be spe­cial­ized ac­ces­si­ble courts to de­ter­mine the ‘best in­ter­est of the dog,’ as there are for chil­dren in the fam­ily courts,’’ he said in a writ­ten rul­ing re­leased this week.

“In this less per­fect world, there is the small claims court op­er­at­ing on prin­ci­ples of prop­erty law, treat­ing pets as ‘chat­tels’ not very dif­fer­ent — legally speak­ing — from the fam­ily car.’’

Slone heard the case of a former Halifax-area cou­ple who he said never dis­cussed the own­er­ship of Lily, who is part duck toller, un­til their re­la­tion­ship dis­in­te­grated.

The woman, a vol­un­teer SPCA dog walker, bought Lily in 2009, at a time she and her boyfriend were not liv­ing to­gether. They later adopted a sec­ond dog, Cooper, while liv­ing to­gether and that dog and Lily be­came “very bonded,’’ Slone said.

The boyfriend took Cooper with him when the cou­ple broke up in 2012, and the two traded Lily back and forth for years. But they ar­gued about how to han­dle some health is­sues, and in­creas­ingly about cus­tody.

In March 2017, it all came to a head when the man sought to pick Lily up from his ex-girl­friend’s house, prompt­ing an ar­gu­ment and end­ing with him call­ing Lily to his car and driv­ing off. He re­fused to re­turn her, so she took him to small claims court. In his rul­ing, Slone said the woman may have had the strong­est own­er­ship claim at first, but that changed over time. He noted that Lily ran to the man on that emo­tion­ally charged day in March 2017.

“It is telling and ironic that the im­me­di­ate and per­haps ul­ti­mate de­ci­sion was made by Lily her­self,’’ Slone said.

The man had paid thou­sands of dol­lars in vet bills, Slone said, and be­came the pre­dom­i­nate hu­man in Lily’s life. He con­sid­ered him­self “the ‘al­pha’ in Lily’s pack,’’ the ad­ju­di­ca­tor noted.

“De­ter­min­ing own­er­ship of fam­ily pets is not easy for the court, nor nec­es­sar­ily fair to the dis­putants. Of­ten, as is the case here, nei­ther of the peo­ple in this dog’s life was re­ally con­cerned about le­gal own­er­ship un­til things went wrong. When fam­i­lies break apart, the fam­ily dog will usu­ally be awarded to the per­son with the best case for le­gal own­er­ship,’’ Slone wrote.


In this file photo from July, an aban­doned dog named Flo stands by as vol­un­teer Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez plays with an aban­doned dog known as Blan­quita, dur­ing a de­liv­ery of food for the dogs, on a street in San­ti­ago, Chile.

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