British Columbia

Dog 'a special type of property,' tribunal rules in canine custody battle

Breaking up is hard to do, but it's even harder if the custody of a family pet is involved.

Golden retriever 'Ruby Star' at centre of family custody dispute

A Golden Retriever, like this one, is at the heart of a pet custody battle after couple separated. (Shutterstock / Lumi Studio)

Breaking up is hard to do, but it's even harder if the custody of a family pet is involved.

In this case before the Civil Resolution Tribunal of B.C., the ownership of a golden retriever named "Ruby Star," or "Ruby," came into dispute after Jill Horn and George Eggberry split up in 2016.

The cases make it clear that a dog is a special type of property- Tribunal member, Maureen Baird

The couple have children together and are involved in parenting them, but the dog's ownership became a bone of contention after they had separated for several months.

In the tribunal ruling, Eggberry said he left the dog with Horn for one day in August of 2017 but she refused to give her back.

Dog given away

Golden retrievers are affectionate and easy-going making them a popular dog breed. (Seth Wenig/The Associated Press)

However, Horn argued she is entitled to own the dog and believes that her ex was failing to properly care for Ruby who she took to a veterinarian for emergency treatment after seeing a scab under her collar.

According to court documents, Horn said Eggberry had felt the dog required rest not medical care, but Ruby needed treatment for a flea infestation.

Horn felt it was "no longer appropriate" for Eggberry to keep Ruby and decided to give the dog to her sister, Jennifer Bresciani, and her sister's husband, Jacob, who she felt would provide better care.

Pets are not family

For many pet lovers, the realization that their beloved "fur babies" are considered personal property may come as a shock, but two recent court decisions, Henderson v. Henderson and Brown v. Larochelle, ruled that pets should not be treated the same as children.

"The cases make it clear that a dog is a special type of property...," wrote Tribunal member Maureen Baird. 

In Ruby's case, the Civil Resolution Tribunal sided with George Eggberry.

"Mr. Eggberry alone signed the adoption papers for Ruby, taking contractual responsibility for the dog," Baird said. 

Because Horn decided to find Ruby a new home, according to the tribunal, she retained no property interest in the dog, so Horn could not transfer ownership to her sister.

Tribunal order

The tribunal, which decides small claims matters, issued an order that Ruby be returned to Eggberry within five days of the ruling.

Eggberry's additional claim of damages for mental distress was dismissed due to a lack of medical evidence.