When deciding to pursue a legal battle to regain possession of a dog one claims is theirs alone, the person should be prepared to show proof as to why there is a superior right to possession over the other person, and why that person’s possession of the dog is the best for all concerned.
New York courts have consistently held that although dogs are special property classification, the only way to regain possession of a dog for unmarried people is through an action for replevin, which means an action that enables a person to recoup personal property taken wrongfully or unlawfully. An action for replevin is based upon a “superior right in the chattel”. Travis v. Murray, 42 Misc.3d 447 (Sup. Ct. NY Co., 2013).
In determining this right to chattel, courts use a “best for all concerned” standard; not a “best interest” standard since there is no way of determining what is in a dog’s best interest. In assessing who should retain possession of a dog, the courts have looked at the following factors, which are exemplified in the cases cited with each factor below:
1) Who purchased the dog (See Hennet v. Allan, 43 Misc.3d 542 (Sup. Ct. Albany Co., 2014))
2) Veterinary bills
3) Microchipping (Caputo v. Assante, 42 Misc.3d 133 (A) (2nd Dept., 2014))
4) Motivation for wanting the dog (ex: emotional vs. wanting to breed the dog (Ramseur v. Askins, 44 Misc.3d 12009(A) (Civ. Ct. Bronx Co., 2014))
5) Ownership is a principal concern with regard to ultimate possession of a pet. (Travis v. Murray, at 456) identified ownership as a factor to be considered when determining the “best for all concerned” regarding pet possession.
For example, in the most notable New York dog possession case, the Court in Travis v. Murray said it would give each party the chance to show:
1) Why she will benefit from having the dog in her life
2) Why the dog has a better chance of living, prospering, loving and being loved in the care of one spouse as opposed to the other?
3) Who bore the major responsibility for meeting the dog’s needs (i.e., feeding, walking, grooming and taking him to the veterinarian) when the parties lived together?
4) Who spent more time with the dog on a regular basis?
5) Why did plaintiff leave the dog with defendant, as defendant alleges, at the time the couple separated?
6) Why has defendant chosen to have the dog live with her mother in Maine, rather than with her, or with plaintiff for that matter, in New York?
Thus, anyone considering litigation a dog possession case should keep thorough and accurate receipts of anything pertaining to the dog’s care (food, dog beds, exercise equipment, toys, grooming, veterinary bills, dog walker/doggie daycare bills), any tags purchased, and any registration on behalf of the dog (ex: dog license).
Rincker Law can help parties negotiate, litigate or mediate dog possession cases after a break-up.