Judge has to make tough decision in Salmon Arm doggy custody battle - InfoNews

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Judge has to make tough decision in Salmon Arm doggy custody battle

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April 05, 2020 - 7:30 AM

A Provincial Court Judge has ruled on the future of two dogs after a separated Salmon Arm couple headed to the courtroom to settle a custody battle over their beloved pets.

The ruling also sheds a light on how the courts deal with the tricky issue pets play in disputes: "Are dogs to be treated as property or are they to be dealt with as one would deal with children?"

"The law is clear that dogs... are property. It is the nature of that property and how ownership of it is determined that is a bit more unique to pet cases than it is to toasters or other inanimate objects," Judge Stella Frame says in the March 25 decision posted online recently.

According to the decision, Salmon Arm resident Raiann Almaas launched the small claims case against her former partner Michael David Wheeler, arguing for the return of the two dogs, Aurora, a pit bull-cross, and Zeus, a pit-bull, along with $13,562 after their relationship broke up. The couple began living together in 2013 and purchased Aurora and Zeus over a period of several years during their relationship.

Wheeler then launched a counterclaim arguing his former girlfriend had not kept a custody agreement in which the couple were to share the dogs 50/50. He claims $13,562 to cover vet bills, training, and other expenses.

Judge Frame references several other cases where judges have had to make decisions regarding the custody of family pets.

"I acknowledge that pets are of great importance to human beings. Strong bonds develop between them and the human beings that look after them. To some people, the relationship with their pets takes on a significance exceeding that of any other... Some may consider them to be children; however, they are not children," reads the decision.

The decision goes on to say while pets are treated as property under the law "the love that humans can develop for their pets is no trivial matter."

"In the case of two loving and devoted pet owners, I must consider which one has the better property claim."

While a judge can order assets and property to be divided or sold, no one wants that outcome for a pet.

The judge then tried to determine which of the couple had the better claim of ownership but found no help in that analysis.

"If I were to determine ownership entirely upon who paid for and financially supported these dogs from the time of purchase to the time of separation, I would find that Mr. Wheeler was the sole owner of both dogs," the Judge said. "If I were to determine ownership entirely upon who primarily cared for the dogs and attended to their needs, I would find that Ms. Almaas performed a substantial amount of that care. Certainly, Mr. Wheeler also participated in their care when he was home from work."

"In the end result, both parties own these dogs," ruled Judge Frame.

She ultimately made the only decision left available. She dismissed both monetary claims and split up the dogs so each could have one. 

"The exchange must occur in a manner that does not violate any orders of any chief medical officer of British Columbia or of Canada in light of the COVID-19 pandemic," the decision said. "In addition, the parties must also comply with social distancing advisories during that exchange."

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