Recently, there’s been some controversy as to whether pets can be properly considered a human’s offspring. Conventional wisdom would have it that yes, that can be a thing, if not in the letter of the law, than in the spirit.
That’s a good thing, too, because the law apparently isn’t sold on the idea.
A divorcing couple in Canada recently asked Justice Richard Danyliuk of the Court of Queen’s Bench for Saskatchewan to consider their three dogs — 13-year-old Quill, 9-year-old Kenya and 2-year-old Willow — as children for the purpose of establishing visitation rights. (The wife was petitioning for sole custody.)
Danyliuk did not take the request lightly: Rather, he spent 15 pages on his August ruling, just now being publicized. Things start nice enough: “Dogs are wonderful creatures.”
But, he was also unequivocal in denying the request: “After all is said and done, a dog is a dog. At law it is property, a domesticated animal that is owned. At law it enjoys no familial rights.”
“My present task is not to act with emotion or to validate the personal perspective of pet owners within the legal context,” Danyliuk’s ruling continued. “Rather, it is to interpret and then apply the law. And for legal purposes, there can be no doubt: Dogs are property.”
David Grimm, who wrote the excellently titled Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs, told the Washington Post that the ruling is in keeping with U.S. law, though the American legal system has progressively granted animals more and more rights. For example, pets can be beneficiaries of legal trusts in the majority of American states, and have been assigned lawyers in some instances. (Edward Gorey, for instance, a famous 20th century artist, left his entire estate to the care and welfare of animals, including the raccoons in his attic.)
Grimm notes that cases like this one will begin to be seen as precedent-setting as our relationship with our pets moves more towards the familial.
“Is it right that a judge says that that cat is a piece of property? I think in the next few decades, this is probably where the relationship with our companion animals is going to get really interesting,” he told the Post. “Decisions like this will play into that.”