Canine Custody Battle a Slippery Slope?
By Mark Kalaygian
December 10, 2013

Are we seeing a legal trend that could have a similar negative impact as the pet personhood bills from a few years ago?

Last week, I read this article about a custody battle over a divorcing couple's beloved dog, which was the cover story in the New York Post. It was an interesting story that largely focused on the courts' increasing concern about the welfare of companion animals when awarding custody in divorce proceedings, and in this case, the judge was considering which home the dog—Joey—would be better off in before the case was settled out of court today.


This increased concern about pet welfare is, of course, a positive development for the animals in question—not to mention a good sign that people remain enthralled with their pets. But I can't help but wonder if this could be a slippery slope that has the potential to ultimately have a far-ranging impact on the pet trade.

According to the details of what was described as New York State's first matrimonial pet-custody case, the two-year-old canine—a miniature Dachsund—was a gift from one of the plaintiffs to the other. I'm no lawyer, but I'm pretty sure that, in divorce proceedings, property given as a gift in a relationship is usually awarded to the person who received the gift, not the giver. The fact that the welfare of the pet was being considered in deciding custody clearly means that the court was treating Joey more like a child than property.

 

While I morally agree with this approach to awarding custody of a pet—I personally think of my pets as my kids, not property, and would always agree that a pet belongs in the best possible home—assigning "human" rights to pets can have unintended, game-changing consequences. We saw a similar dynamic at play when pet personhood bills were popping up around the country a few years ago. In both cases, good intentions can have countless legal ramifications. You see, if pets are treated more like people than property in the eyes of the law, the legality of selling pets and pet ownership come into question.