When it comes to custody disputes during a separation or divorce, it’s natural to think of child custody. But for many couples, the issue of what happens to their pets can become an issue as well. In a recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the court had to rule on just such a dispute.

The relationship

The couple were not married, but began dating in 2009 and started to live together in the fall of 2013. The purchased a puppy together and became engaged to marry in 2015. In the fall of that year the boyfriend (“the applicant”) was arrested and removed from the home as a result of being charged with domestic violence on the girlfriend (“the respondent”). By this point the couple had been living together for close to two years, and the puppy was eight months old.

The parties tried unsuccessfully to save their relationship, and arrangements were made for the applicant to have liberal contact with the dog. Despite not living in the home, the applicant continued to pay half of the home expenses. The relationship ultimately ended in early 2017. Following a complaint of the applicant breaching his parole in February 2017, he was cut off from access to the dog.

The parties managed to clear up most of the issues related to their separation, with one exception being what would happen with the dog.

Who is entitled to the dog?

The applicant said the dog was a gift to him, and despite not seeing him since the breach of probation, he wanted him back. Meanwhile the respondent claims the dog had always been hers.

The court noted that despite the attachment people have to pets, they are considered personal property under the law. The court noted that there was no dispute the respondent had purchased the dog and was the sole owner. The question then turned into whether or not the dog was given to the applicant, thus changing ownership.

The applicant claimed the wife brought the dog home and said “I bought it for you” or “look what I got for you.” The court noted that objectively, those statements do not indicate an intention to gift. The court wrote,

“In the context of the applicant’s clear opposition, those statements do not indicate that the respondent was seriously intending to make a gift.  There was no birthday, anniversary, or other occasion that would prompt the giving of a gift.  It would be very odd for the respondent to buy the dog she had long wanted and then immediately give it away to someone who up to that point was clearly indicating that he did not want a dog.”

The court then explained that the giving of a gift has to include both delivery and acceptance, neither of which applied in this case. As a result, the court concluded that the dog was the property of the respondent.

To speak with an experienced Windsor lawyer about property division, including pets, call 519.973.1500 or contact us online. Many of our clients are referred to us by former and current clients, as well as by lawyers, accountants and other professionals.