We all love our pets, but what happens when you find a dog and then keep it as your own and another owner shows up? What about a cat that was a gift from a significant other or spouse that later becomes an ex-significant other? Who gets the pet? How does the law treat pets in those circumstances?
Pets – all animals owned by humans, in fact – are considered personal property or “chattel” as it is legally described. Ownership is established the same as any personal property – by title, by ownership mark, or by a showing of ownership. So what would be evidence of ownership? A microchip and registration in your name, a tattoo, a particularly specific “ear notch”, a registered brand, or a registration that lists you as an owner and specifically identifies the animal by any of the proceeding.
But what if both you and the “ex” are on the documentation of registration or ownership? Unless you have a document or witnessed agreement to give you ownership, you each own ½. What if you have paid for care and medical costs that exceed the value of the animal? You might have an argument to receive either ½ of those costs or the other half of the animal as compensation, but to get there, you would have to go to court….
The bottom line is, identify your animals with something permanent and specific such as a microchip and/or a tattoo. If you own the animal with someone else, and they give up their ownership, document it with a signed document and have the registration of the animal changed to reflect the sole ownership.
Otherwise, you might end up in court.
Blog By: Maura Phelan, Attorney