Pets and Divorce-Who Gets the Dog? (Part Two)

In my last blog, I discussed how pets are dealt with in divorce. In this blog, I will discuss how the law deals with pets and their “rights”.

Companion animals are increasingly being afforded protection under the law. In 2011, because pets were becoming targets in domestic violence cases, The Texas Legislature amended the law to prohibit a person named in a protective order to take possession of an animal. Further, in 2013, the Texas Penal Code was amended to specify what the possession of a pet, assistance animal or companion animal means.

Also in 2013, the Amended “Dallas County Standing Order Regarding Children, Pets, Property, and Conduct of the Parties” includes the following provision:

PROTECTION OF FAMILY PETS OR COMPANION ANIMALS. Both parties are ORDERED to refrain from harming, threatening, interfering with the care, custody, or control of a pet or companion animal, that is protected by this order or by a member of the family or household of a person protected by this order”.

Unfortunately, pets have become targets in domestic violence cases. These laws and orders mean that a person subject to a protective order that harms a pet can go to jail.

Furthering the move toward animals having “rights” under the law instead of just being personal property, in August of this year the Oregon Supreme Court in“State v. Nix”┬áthe court held that animals — namely, 20 goats and horses, found starving among the bodies of others that hadn’t made it, on the defendant Arnold Nix’s farm — can each be considered individual “victims” under the law.

Although the court acknowledged the current legal status of animals as property, it recognized that individual animals have legal interests that are incompatible with being classified as property. Hopefully, other courts and lawmakers will also recognize these interests.

Companion animals are finally gaining some rights, thanks in large part to the Animal Defense Fund. Please do right by your pets.

I will end this blog with one of my favorite quotes. It is from President Woodrow Wilson. I have it in a picture in my office. It reads:

“If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience”.

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