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Judge decides who gets to keep the dog after engaged B.C. couple splits up

“Dogs are considered property, but a different type of property”
Milo, a two-year-old Doberman, was the centre of a recent Port Alberni civil property claim after an engaged couple near Port Alberni broke up and shared custody just wasn’t an option. (Pixabay photo)

Milo the two-year-old Doberman is the property of his dad.

It took five days of trial to determine, but in the end, on May 9, provincial court judge R.J. Webb ruled that a Port Alberni man is the owner of Milo.

“I find that the claimant has established on a balance of probabilities that he is the owner of Milo. He paid for Milo, provided the majority of care, and had Milo in his possession until he was arrested and Milo was taken from him and given to the defendant. Milo needs to be returned to the claimant,” Webb said in his ruling.

According to the judgment, the claimant and the defendant were engaged. They were living together in a cabin on Sproat Lake near Port Alberni prior to separating in October of 2020. While they were together they got a dog, a Doberman named Milo. Since the separation, they have been unable to decide between themselves who should get Milo.

“The courts have struggled to try to determine ownership of dogs. Dogs are considered property, but a different type of property,” said the judge.

He went on to reference three past court decisions where the ownership of a dog was in question, pointing out factors for the court to consider, including: the dog’s best interests, who purchased the dog, paying for ongoing care, and providing training and exercise.

Webb also made note of past criminal complaints the defendant made against the claimant on at least two occasions in November 2020. When the claimant was detained by Port Alberni RCMP for alleged domestic violence, police took Milo into custody as well instead of allowing the claimant to make arrangements to have Milo cared for.

“[RCMP] took Milo to the SPCA apparently for safe-keeping while the claimant was placed under arrest. The defendant testified that she was advised by the RCMP that Milo was at the SPCA and she testified that the police told her that she could pick up Milo at the SPCA. It appears that this process, taking Milo from one person and giving him to another, was orchestrated by the police. It is clear that the claimant did not agree or consent to the release of Milo to the defendant. The defendant said the police called her offering that she could come and pick up Milo from the SPCA. This evidence is troubling, but not the fault of either of the parties,” said Webb.

Constable Maria Marciano of the Port Alberni RCMP testified that due to text messages the claimant sent to the defendant in breach of no-contact terms of the claimant’s bail, some of which she said included threats to Milo, she thought the claimant’s behaviour might be escalating and that in her role of a domestic violence coordinator, she had seen situations where this type of escalation had led to violence against animals. As a result, Marciano advised the defendant that she could pick up Milo at the SPCA.

Towards the end of Webb’s decision, he made note that when the claimant and defendant were separating in October 2020, “the dog ownership fell in favour of the claimant.”

“When the defendant left the home in October 2020, she did not take Milo with her. When the claimant left the home in early November to allow the defendant to gather her belongings, he took Milo with him. The arrangements between the parties, probably unspoken, was that Milo stayed with the claimant. That only changed when the RCMP took Milo from the claimant and gave him to the defendant,” Webb said.

The court also heard testimony from witnesses for both the claimant and the defendant, which Webb acknowledged in his ruling.

“I accept, as stated earlier, that both the claimant and the defendant are capable of caring for Milo. I also accept that both were involved in the care of Milo when they were together and accept that both contributed to the expenses involved in Milo’s care. I find that the claimant provided the majority of the care and paid the majority of the expenses while the parties were together,” Webb ruled.

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