Who's dog is it?
June 20, 2009 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone know Canadian laws on dog ownership post-relationship breakup?

My girlfriend and I recently broke up after a few years. We did not live together and our dog has always lived with me. I (and I alone) have always taken the dog to work each day, bought her food, taken her to the vet, etc. The ex's spite is overtaking her judgement of what is best for the dog. We have shared 'custody' whereby I have the dog all week and I drop her off on weekends to live with the ex.

I don't particularly enjoy the set up as it means the ex and I still have to interact, but I feel her relationship with the dog is important for the dog.

Having said all that, when we initially got her, the ex was put down as the 'owner' and the dog is registered to her. She has recently made some veiled threats and I am concerned she is considering not returning the dog to me one of these weekends. This kills me not only because of what I'd be losing, but the fact that she'd be crated all day while the ex is at work.

Does anyone know what recourse I have should this occur?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (15 answers total)
Legally it's probably her dog, although if the dog has always lived with you and others will back that up, then I suppose you can argue that it's your dog and you just didn't bother updating the registration because you were dating.

I also have to wonder about the stress that the travelling back and forth puts on the dog. Because of that, and the risk of her acting out of spite, I'd probably just not give her the dog back and let her take you to court over it if she really insists.

If she acts first, you're in a much more difficult position.
posted by glider at 6:20 PM on June 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

Pets are not people, and I say that as a lover of animals. I'm with glider- this wackadoodle idea you two have about "sharing custody" of the dog is probably far from the dog's best interests and confusing the heck out of her.

Tell your ex that you won't be bringing the dog by any more weekends.
posted by mkultra at 6:28 PM on June 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

if the dog is registered to her, then the dog probably belongs to her.

And, I'm not sure that I agree that sharing the dog is a terrible thing, unless you're seeing signs of stress in the dog.

My dog spends a couple of days a week with someone other than me, she looks forward to it, is excited, has fun... I don't think it creates a problem... she seems pretty happy.
posted by HuronBob at 6:40 PM on June 20, 2009

I feel her relationship with the dog is important for the dog.

The dog will get over it
posted by mattoxic at 8:21 PM on June 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

Sorry, meant to say, the dog is best off with who can spend most time with the animal. If you're uncomfortable about sharing the dog, then don't.
posted by mattoxic at 8:22 PM on June 20, 2009

What Province are you in? This might matter.

I have a family member in by-law enforcement, who deals with animal control, registration, etc...

I asked her this question, and her opinion is (This is in B.C.)

It's covered under civil law - so it would be small claims court.

Licenses can either be municipal or provincial.

She suggests Canadian Kennel Club registrations may be viewed differently in court as well - purebred ownership registration would mean more.

Generally, the caregiver who pays the vet bills and cares for the animal primarily would win. If that person were also the registered owner, it's a no brainer. As that's not the case - there is room for it to go either way.

As it's small claims - it's more up to judge than to precedent.

In theory it's very similar to a child custody dispute - and the courts tend to look at what's best for the animal/child -vs- ownership disputes.
posted by TravellingDen at 9:23 PM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can't you register the dog in your name? Or maybe that requires a receipt or other document of transaction.
posted by unknowncommand at 10:46 PM on June 20, 2009

I am not a lawyer!!!

I think it says a lot about BC that a dog would be treated similarly to a child custody case. Animals are property, not people. Unless there is cruelty involved, in which case the government can confiscate an animal, the owner of the dog shall remain whoever paid for the dog (or acquired the dog for free from whoever gave it away) and has paid for the dog's medical care and food.
posted by thewalrus at 11:17 PM on June 20, 2009

Here's what I'd do: Suck it up and humbly grovel and do whatever I had to do to get the dog, say whatever they wanted to hear, whatever, and break off this shared custody thing, which is disruptive for everybody. I'd really, really try to keep the conversation warm and conciliatory and try to wrap the relationship up and close it in a way that allowed the other person to feel some dignity and closure. If this didn't work, I think I'd go for bribery. (I love my dog.)

Dogs aren't kids, though--they need the security of feeling part of a consistent pack with a clear social order and a predictable life--and I say this as a crazy dog person: they're not people. They're different. It's important to respect differences with those you love. Shared custody might be good and necessary with kids but I doubt it's either for dogs.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:13 AM on June 21, 2009

Another point she made was:

On the flip-side... were the dog to get loose, and hurt someone, and get caught, it is the registered owner who would have the court summons and be held to account for the dog's actions. That registered owner could, of course, argue that the dog wasn't really theirs anymore and that the registration just hadn't been updated.
posted by TravellingDen at 6:35 AM on June 21, 2009

What if you just took the dog and re-registered it in your name? Who says it's the same dog?
posted by TravellingDen at 6:37 AM on June 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

You may have a leg to stand on with the dog, especially if you have vet bills and food purchases you can prove, but maybe you can bargain with her to sign the dog into your name. If there's something else she wants that you can and are willing to give her, do it.
posted by ishotjr at 8:03 AM on June 21, 2009

Where did you get the dog? If you gave money to a breeder or shelter or rescue group, that might make you the owner.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:23 AM on June 21, 2009

Not knowing anything about Canadian law, in the states it would be something that would probably brought to small claims court. When I worked at an animal shelter, a similar concern of dog custody came up. Do Canadian laws require annual licensing of dogs? If so, go get a license in your name. Make sure that your vet records are in your name only. Once you have done the paperwork, if you are really worried that she will "dog-nap", simply refuse to allow her to have access to the dog. Then if she really wants to pursue "custody" she will have to shell out the money for court costs. This is a deterrent for most people. If she physically has the dog then you would have to be the one to take her to court. The burden of proof of ownership in court (if she starts the case) would be on her. The dog has always lived with you, the two of you never lived together. For that matter, the dog could have been a gift. She just registered him/her in her name at the time that she got him/her.
posted by gammer at 12:19 PM on June 21, 2009

I know you're not feeling good about the ex., but she seems to be the owner of record, and she wants to maintain the relationship with the dog, which is a good thing. You might be able to find an arbitrator to help you work out a written agreement regarding the dog. Over time, she may get over the breakup and be more willing to let you have the dog.
posted by theora55 at 12:22 PM on June 21, 2009

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