When fam­ily pets are like but­ter knives

A di­vorc­ing cou­ple in Canada asked a judge to treat their dogs like chil­dren; here is his re­ply

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Amy B Wang

“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.

“Af­ter all is said and done, a dog is a dog,” 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.”

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, 9year-old Kenya and 2-yearold Wil­low — while al­low­ing for visi­ta­tion rights of 90 min­utes at a time to her soon-to-be ex-hus­band.

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. He was firm in his rul­ing. “I say with­out reser­va­tion that the prospect of treat­ing pets as chil­dren would be treated holds ab­so­lutely no at­trac­tion for me,” Danyliuk wrote, while ac­knowl­edg­ing that many dog own­ers do treat their dogs as fam­ily mem­bers. “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 and then ap­ply the law. And for le­gal pur­poses, there can be no doubt: Dogs are prop­erty.”

Danyliuk elab­o­rated fur­ther by cit­ing other cases and ar­gu­ing that deal­ing hu­manely with pets and con­sid­er­ing them prop­erty were not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. In one sec­tion of the rul­ing, Danyliuk used what he called a “some­what ridicu­lous ex­am­ple” of but­ter knives to make his point about “what I see as a some­what ridicu­lous ap­pli­ca­tion.”

“I strongly sus­pect th­ese par­ties had other per­sonal prop­erty, in­clud­ing house­hold goods,” he wrote. “Am I to make an or­der that one party have in­terim pos­ses­sion of (for ex­am­ple) the fam­ily but­ter knives but, due to a deep at­tach­ment to both but­ter and those knives, or­der that the other party have lim­ited ac­cess to those knives for 1.5 hours per week to but­ter his or her toast?”

Danyliuk sug­gested that the case should have never landed in his court­room in the first place.

“I am sure that to (the di­vorc­ing cou­ple), this is the most im­por­tant mat­ter,” Danyliuk wrote. But, he added: “To con­sume scarce ju­di­cial re­sources with this mat­ter is waste­ful. In my view, such ap­pli­ca­tions should be dis­cour­aged.”

David Grimm, au­thor of “Cit­i­zen Ca­nine: Our Evolv­ing Re­la­tion­ship With Cats and Dogs,” said Danyliuk’s rul­ing is not un­usual, be­cause un­der U.S. and Cana­dian laws, an­i­mals are con­sid­ered prop­erty.

“Which means that they ba­si­cally legally have the same sta­tus as a couch or a toaster,” Grimm told The Wash­ing­ton Post. “That’s what it is, sort of, in the­ory.”

In prac­tice, how­ever, things can be­come mud­dled — par­tic­u­larly when it comes to house­hold com­pan­ion an­i­mals such as cats and dogs.

Anti-cru­elty laws do not ex­ist for toast­ers, ev­i­dence that the law rec­og­nizes that an­i­mals de­serve spe­cial pro­tec­tion, ac­cord­ing to An­i­mal Le­gal De­fense Fund at­tor­ney Ste­fanie Wilson.

At least one state — Alaska — has, by law, em­pow­ered courts in di­vorce pro­ceed­ings to con­sider the an­i­mal’s well-be­ing in mak­ing a cus­tody de­ter­mi­na­tion, she added.

“Ar­guably, al­most all courts have the dis­cre­tion and author­ity, in a di­vorce case, to ap­point a spe­cial guardian or mas­ter to con­sider and make rec­om­men­da­tions for the best out­come for Fido,” Wilson said. “The law is start­ing to catch up to the re­al­ity of the spe­cial place that our pets hold in our lives and in so­ci­ety.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.