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Pets are property, not children: judge

A Saskatchewan court decision should serve as a reminder that Canadian law does not treat family pets in the same way as children, no matter how much their owners might like them to, says Brampton lawyer-linguist Suzanne Deliscar.

Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Richard Danyliuk recently rejected an interim exclusive possession application that asked him to take a “custody approach” to the question of where two family dogs should live after the couple’s separation.  

Deliscar, principal of Deliscar Professional Corporation, a law firm that offers services in English, French and Spanish, says she’s not surprised to see pet owners using child custody proceedings as the template for their cats, dogs and other creatures.

“Some people will spend as much time, money and effort on their animals as their own children, but pets are generally considered property in law, which is something I think many people don’t know,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com. “When you do a will, you can bequeath the family dog or cat just like you would any other piece of property.”

Justice Danyliuk delivered that message to the litigants in his case after the wife claimed the two dogs she owned with her estranged husband should live with her. Labelling him a “cat person,” she conceded he should be granted “reasonable access” to the dogs for 1.5-hour visits on agreed-upon days. The husband’s approach was different – he simply wanted one of the dogs, and agreed to allow his former wife to decide which one she would keep.   

“I say without reservation that the prospect of treating pets as children would be treated holds absolutely no attraction for me,” Danyliuk wrote in his decision. “I say this cognizant that many dog owners, perhaps most of them, choose to treat the family dog not as property but as family. Certainly that is what these parties did. But that choice does not alter the law that pets are property. 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.”

The judge went on to describe the whole dispute over the pets as a “wasteful” use of scarce judicial resources that "should be discouraged."

“I urge both parties to attempt to resolve this matter prior to the necessity of a pre-trial conference and trial. Both parties should bear in mind that if the court cannot reach a decision on where the dogs go, it is open to the court under the legislation to order them sold and the proceeds split – something I am sure neither party wants,” he warned.

Deliscar says the judge’s reaction should not come as much of a shock.

“Most judges are not interested in getting involved in these issues, and you can see in this case that he views it as a waste of time,” she says. “This is something that both parties should try to resolve between themselves.”

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