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Divorcing couples spend thousands in pet custody battles


Like many couples, my husband Takashi and I decided to have a pet during the pandemic.

Working from home meant we finally had time to care for the new puppy. He is a Japanese breed known as a Shiba Inu, so it seemed that he was named after his country of origin.

Muku means fluffy and innocent in Japanese. He is definitely the former. We quickly discovered the not-so-last one.

We weren’t the only ones with an epidemic pet. By 2022, the total number of cats and dogs keeping Canadians company will reach 16 million.

But there’s something else many couples did during the pandemic. To separate.

The combination of millions of pets and thousands of abortions meant one thing to Canadian courts. multiple pet custody lawsuits; couples go to a judge to get custody of their companion animal after a separation or divorce.

Animal rights lawyer Rebecca BraderShe, who has been working on pet custody disputes for years, says her caseload has nearly doubled in the past few years.

“It’s a really intense emotional battle, like fighting for children. And I would say sometimes, maybe even more,” Breder said.


Breeder warns that in some ways, fighting for a pet is more difficult than fighting for children. This is because when it comes to companion animals, Canadian law is open to interpretation.

Judges may consider the needs of the pet, although they are not legally required to do so.

“The Canadian common law when it comes to how the law treats companion animals in pet custody disputes… animals are property. They are considered as chairs, as furniture.”

When a person tries to prove that the chair belongs to him, it can be quite easy; just show the receipt.

But how can you prove to the judge that your dog is your life and you can’t bear the thought of not having your precious fur baby with you forever? Not so easy.

One of the main reasons it’s complicated is that many couples split the cost of a pet.

In my case, my husband and I share all of Muku’s expenses, from vet bills to doggie daycare fees.

W5 Producer Kevin O’Keefe with his Shiba Inu, Muku

“Too often it is,” Breder said. “Someone has a receipt for vet bills, another partner has a receipt for dog food, and another has bank records to show they paid for the animal.”

So what happens when both provide evidence to prove the pet is theirs?

The case can drag on for years with legal costs going through the roof.


But how do ugly court battles affect pets? That’s the concern of the Montreal SPCA.

“We’ve heard quite a few horror stories when it comes to this issue,” an SPCA lawyer Sophie Gaillard “I’ve even heard stories where the spouse named on the adoption contract has had the animal euthanized, sometimes even because of antagonism to the other spouse over the animal.”

SPCA lawyer Sophie Gaillard, left, said she had heard some “horror stories” when it comes to animal custody battles (W5)

To protect animals, they created an educational campaign called Lasting relationship which involves forcing couples to sign a pet custody agreement, or petnup.

The document is similar to a prenup, except this one is for a pet. Couples who sign promise to “put their personal interests aside” and do what is “in the best interest of animals” if they split up.

The agreement was published in January 2022, the month with the highest divorce rate in Canada.

While Gaillard says their bundle has never been tested in court, it’s a legal document he says should be upheld.

Gaillard’s bottom line is that she hopes it will at least get couples talking about what happens to their pet after a separation or divorce.


Gaillard’s advice got me thinking about the future of our dog, Muku. My husband and I share all expenses and have no agreement if we separate.

But after hearing me talk about pet care over and over, Takashi says he’s looking forward to watching the story with me this Saturday. I suspect one of his main reasons is to see Muku, who has a scene in the works.

But I also hope that when he watches, he’ll feel as motivated as I am to sign a pet marriage contract.

Like most couples, we have no plans to ever break up. But after talking to so many people fighting for animal custody, I feel it’s important to have it in writing that whatever happens to us, we agree that Muku’s best interest comes first.

Dogfight airs on W5 Saturday March 11 at 7pm on CTV

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