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News and Views — Epstein's This Week in Family Law

Ownership of a Pet — Dog Fight

By: Philip Epstein

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Hawes v. Redmond, 2013 CarswellNS 1064 (N.S. Small Cl. Ct.): The courts are often cavalier about the issue of pets, sometimes deeming the issue too trivial for adjudication and not worthy of the court's time. The courts do, however, on a day-to-day basis resolve property issues no matter how trivial and all too frequently courts are called upon to deal with the issue of contents as parties are unable to agree on how to divide their "stuff". While no one who has had a pet would likely consider that contents are more important than pets, in some cases (probably far too many), some people are closer to their pets and take better care of them than they do their children. Some of them no doubt treat their pets as children.

This case is about the ownership of a dog. Tim is a long-haired Chihuahua. He was purchased by the claimant as a gift to the defendant with whom the claimant was in a same sex relationship. The trial judge in this small claims court action in Nova Scotia is Eric Slone an adjudicator. He obviously has some familiarity with pet cases because he quotes extensively from himself in a 2008 case called Gardiner-Simpson v. Cross, 2008 CarswellNS 692 (N.S. Small Cl. Ct.).

He recognizes that the case is not about the best interests of the dog, it is about who has the better claim to legal ownership. The analysis, says Mr. Slone, is no different than it would be if we were talking about a bicycle. I am not sure that Tiny Tim, the dog, would be happy being compared to a bicycle, but I am sure the legal analysis is correct. In the result having found that the dog was a gift to the defendant the dog is ordered returned to her on the basis that she has the better claim to ownership. Whatever this case might have been about after this broken relationship, it was not, (in my view at least), about the dog.

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