Not Property in My Home

Last year a 4-H member heard that she could not take her dog to the Ohio State Fair. Her parents had divorced and the dog lived with the noncustodial parent. According to the rules, “Dogs must be in the continual care of the junior fair exhibitor for the duration of the project.”  I agree with the 4-H rule and I feel sorry for the young member.  It made me think it may be time for a change in Ohio’s custodial pet law.

According to John Culhane, a Professor of Law at Widener University School of Law, the traditional approach to handling pet custody between a divorcing couple, “is to regard pets as property” and apply “all the usual rules.” For instance, if one of the individuals owned the dog before entering into the marriage, that would be their “property,” and therefore, he or she would get the dog in the divorce—no matter what the relationship to the animal.

In Alaska, that is about to change.  As of January 17, 2017, “Alaska has become the first state to empower judges to take into account the ‘well-being of the animal’ in custody disputes involving non-human family members.” 1.25.17

Penny Ellison, an adjunct professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, recently wrote an article for The Legal Intelligencer asking the very question, “Can Courts Consider the Interests of Animals?”  In the article, she notes that in instances where both parties want to keep the family pet, “Alaska courts will now be taking evidence on issues like who took responsibility to care for the pet and the closeness of the bond the pet has with each ‘parent’ in determining what type of custody arrangement is in the best interests of the animal.” 1.25.17

Ellison and Culhane both agree that other states are likely to follow in Alaska’s footsteps, and should. They noted that people think of pets as much more than just property. I know I do. My dog is my best friend and closest family member.

The 2017 Ohio State Fair Junior Fair Dog Show Rules were recently posted on the website. As I reviewed these rules, I remembered the member who could take the Dog Care Project and even the Dog Achievement Program, but was not allowed to show her dog at the State Fair. I hope that Ohio would follow Alaska and allow courts to decide what is in the best interest of the animal.

My dog is NOT property.

Share your thoughts. I would love to know what you think.

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”—Roger Caras (photographer and writer)

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