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to be bought and later sold in a garage sale or on craigslist or given away to charity when it is worn, outgrown, out of date or no longer needed or desired by its owner.”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.