What About Pets? Cats and Dogs and Family Law

Cat and dog laying together

I love our family dogs, Becky and Ryder.  My husband loves Ryder and Becky, too! I love my daughter’s cat, Enoki. In fact, my husband loves Enoki, too!

Are dogs and cats just property? No, they are not. In Ontario, there is case law to say that dogs, in particular, have “feelings, are capable of affection, need to be shown affection and that a dog’s affection can be alienated; that its needs must be provided for and that, generally, it must be treated humanely and with all due care and attention to its needs and that these factors are to be considered as well in determining the right to possession or access thereto.”

Where there are competing claims for family pets, the court should be mindful of the fact that inanimate objects should be treated differently from family pets.

A 2001 IPSOS-Reid research study found that “Eight in ten of the pet owners … (83%) consider their pet to be a family member; only 15 percent said they love their pet as a pet rather than as a family member. This perception of the pet as family translates into ‘parental’ behaviour for many pet owners: seven in ten (69%) pet owners allow their pets to sleep on their beds and six in ten have their pet’s pictures in their wallets or on display with other family photos. Almost all pet owners (98%) admit to talking to their pets.”

The nature of the relationship between an owner and a pet dog is qualitatively different from the relationship between an owner and all other forms of personal property. Most people view a pet as “a member of their family to be cared for until death, not a possession to be bought and later sold in a garage sale or on craigslist or given away to charity when it is worn, outgrown, out of date or no longer needed or desired by its owner.”

The treatment of the dog or cat in the custody of the owner and the best interests of the dog or cat are factors that can and must be taken into account in family law proceedings.

Written by Lynn Kirwin. A family law lawyer at Galbraith Family Law. To book a consultation with Lynn please click this link.

Lynn Kirwin

Lynn Kirwin has been practicing law for 28 years. She specializes in high conflict family law cases with a focus on resolving them in an expedient and results-oriented manner. She believes in saving the client costs. She offers the option of limited scope retainers. As well, coaches many clients through the process of family court including assisting them with self-representation at trial. Her wide breadth of knowledge has lead her to have published several books on family law as well as other areas of law. She has expertise in child abuse cases having worked as in-house counsel at a Children’s Aid Society and having represented parents in court on child protection cases. She also is a panel member for the Office of the Children’s Lawyer, providing representation for children in court. She volunteers her time as the Chair of a Board for a women’s shelter and as President of the Orillia Law Association. She has two daughters who attend university. She enjoys spending her free time travelling with her husband, road cycling and taking long walks with her two beagles.

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *