Judge reminds estranged B.C. lovers of social distancing in court-ordered exchange of pit bulls

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      A judge has ruled that both parties in a failed relationship will get a dog each out of the two pit bulls they kept when they were together.

      B.C. provincial court judge S.D. Frame ordered Raiann Almaas and Michael David Wheeler to do a dog exchange no later than April 15, 2020.

      As in most aspects of life that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the trade must be done so as not to spread the novel coronavirus.

      In the reasons for decision, Frame wrote that the “exchange must occur in a manner that does not violate any orders of any chief medical officer of British Columbia or of Canada in light of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

      “In addition, the parties must also comply with social distancing advisories during that exchange,” Frame added.

      Two dogs were at the heart of the dispute between Almaas and Wheeler.

      One is Aurora, a pit bull-cross with a Cane Corso.

      The second is Zeus, a pit bull.

      The two dogs were acquired by Almaas and Wheeler when they were living together.

      Almaas and Wheeler started living together in 2013.

      The relationship ended about four years later, although they continued to be in the same residence for a bit of time.

      In the case brought to the court by the woman, both parties claim ownership to the dogs, and wanted the two animals for each of themselves.

      Before dispensing an analysis of the dispute, the judge noted that the “law is clear that dogs, even those purchased in the course of a relationship as a family pet, are property”.

      According to Frame, dogs are not to be treated as children in cases following a failed relationship.

      “I say without reservation that the prospect of treating pets as children would be treated holds absolutely no attraction for me,” Frame wrote.

      Frame noted that she is making this statement while at the same recognizing that “many dog owners, perhaps most of them, choose to treat the family dog not as property but as family”.

      “Certainly that is what these parties did. But that choice does not alter the law that pets are property,” Frame asserted.

      The judge also acknowledged that the “love that humans can develop for their pets is no trivial matter”.

      According to Frame, the “loss of a pet can be as heartbreaking as the loss of any loved one”.

      Wheeler told the court that "for Ms. Almaas and him, the dogs were their children".

      “Emotion notwithstanding, the law continues to regard animals as personal property,” Frame wrote.

      According to the judge, there are “no special laws governing pet ownership that would compare to the way that children and their care are treated by statutes such as the Custody and Maintenance Act or the Divorce Act”. 

      “Obviously there are laws that prohibit cruelty to animals, but there are no laws that dictate that an animal should be raised by the person who loves it more or would provide a better home environment,” Frame wrote.

      In the case between Almaas and Wheeler, “both parties own these dogs”, Frame stated, referring to Aurora and Zeus.

      “Where there is joint ownership of two dogs, the resolution is fairly straightforward,” Frame wrote.

      Frame ordered Wheeler to return Aurora to Almaas “together with any records or items specific to Aurora such as her license, collar, bed, leash, etc.”.

      Almaas – if she has possession of Zeus or any of Zeus’s property – will return the same to Wheeler, Frame also ordered.