Judge rules dogs should not be treated like kids

In a ruling that references butter knives, euthanasia and cats named Slimey and Oinky, a Saskatoon judge made an impassioned defence of the notion that, when it comes to the law, dogs should not be treated as though they were children.

Dog custody dispute dismissed as ‘wasteful,’ ‘demeaning’ use of court time

A Saskatoon judge says despite the fact many people treat their dog as part of the family, 'at law it enjoys no familial rights.'

In a ruling that references butter knives, euthanasia and cats named Slimey and Oinky, a Saskatoon judge made an impassioned defence of the notion that, when it comes to the law, dogs should not be treated as though they were children.

The Court of Queen's Bench judge made his case in a written decision about a dispute between a divorcing Saskatoon couple who disagreed about where their dogs Kenya and Willow (sometimes "Willy") should live.

"Dogs are wonderful creatures," wrote Justice Richard Danyliuk in the first sentence of his 15-page decision in August.

"Many dogs are treated as members of the family with whom they live. But 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."

Child custody ... for dogs?

The wife wanted the case treated as a child custody dispute. She argued she should keep Kenya and Willow and offer visitation rights to her estranged husband.

Danyliuk rejected that request.

The judge ruled that dogs are property and should not be treated as children. He said that should be obvious to all based on a bit of logical, dispassionate thought: 

  • "In Canada, we tend not to purchase our children from breeders.
  • "We tend not to breed our children with other humans to ensure good bloodlines, nor do we charge for such services.
  • "When our children are seriously ill, we generally do not engage in an economic cost/benefit analysis to see whether the children are to receive medical treatment, receive nothing or even have their lives ended to prevent suffering.
  • "When our children act improperly, even seriously and violently so, we generally do not muzzle them or even put them to death for repeated transgressions."

Danyliuk said given dogs are property and not family, it would be absurd for him to make a ruling about visitation rights.

"Am I to make an order that one party have interim possession of [for example] the family butter knives but, due to a deep attachment to both butter and those knives, order that the other party have limited access to those knives for 1.5 hours per week to butter his or her toast?"

Danyliuk acknowledged that dogs aren't quite like other possessions in that "statutory protection for pets exists to prevent them from being treated with cruelty or neglect."

'Wasteful' use of court resources

The judge said this sort of case should not be chewing up precious court time "in a justice system that is incredibly busy, where delay has virtually become systemic."

"To consume scarce judicial resources with this matter is wasteful. In my view such applications should be discouraged," he added.

Justice Richard Danyliuk, who used to be a Saskatoon lawyer, says this dog custody case was a waste of the court's time. (CBC News)

Danyliuk had to wade through detailed submissions from the couple, which also regaled the court with the intricacies of how the husband acquired their four cats. 

The judge wrote: "[The wife] says that [the husband] was a cat person. [The husband] owned a cat named Rodent when they moved in together.

"Rodent died, and [he] subsequently bought another cat which he named Slimey.

"Later, wanting Slimey to have a playmate, [he] bought another cat which he named Oinky.

"Later still, there was another cat, Beaker.

"When [the husband] and [wife] bought their first residence together, Slimey and Oinky came along.

"[The wife] suggests that [her husband] was improperly inattentive to the cats during the relationship. For present purposes, that information is not particularly helpful."

As with many claims in this case, the wife's characterization of her estranged husband's behaviour doesn't match his version. Danyliuk felt that was something the court couldn't resolve.

More than that, he found this exercise "demeaning for the court and legal counsel to have these parties call upon these legal and court resources because they are unable to settle, what most would agree, is an issue unworthy of this expenditure of time, money and public resources."

Judge warns the couple

Danyliuk warned if the couple continues to pursue this matter in court it may not end well.

"Both parties should bear in mind that if the court cannot reach a decision on where the dogs go, it is open to the court under the legislation to order them sold and the proceeds split — something I am sure neither party wants."

Danyliuk decided the dogs should continue to stay with the wife at her parents' house for the time being, until the divorce was finally settled.

The couple's relationship to the dogs isn't entirely fraught with conflict, as demonstrated by their treatment of their third dog, Quill. He is old, ill and not expected to live much longer.

"It is one of life's cruel twists that dogs are such noble beings yet enjoy such a short life span," wrote Danyliuk.

"Thankfully, there is no contest between the parties that Quill is to remain with [the wife] to be cared for in this final time on Earth."


Geoff Leo

Senior Investigative Journalist

Geoff Leo is a Michener Award nominated investigative journalist and a Canadian Screen Award winning documentary producer and director. He has been covering Saskatchewan stories since 2001. Email Geoff at