Two Rottweiler dogs, named Roxie and Guinness, are at the heart of a bitter custody dispute between their human companions, Patti Dalby and Brooks Brann. Seems Dalby and Brann didn’t get along as well as the happy canine couple, and they went their separate ways last year.
Problem is, both humans want to keep Guinness — and they’re going to court in Orange County, CA in December to see who wins “custody.” (Brann is also seeking $25,000 in punitive damages and compensation for the loss of Guinness’s company.)
The saga began back in 1996, when the couple wanted to find a buddy for Dalby’s Rottweiler, Roxie. They found Guinness at an animal shelter, brought him to their Newport Beach, CA home, and the two dogs bonded. When Brann moved to Montana last year, he wanted to take Guinness with him, but Dalby refused — partly on the grounds that it wasn’t in Guinness’s best interests to be separated from his beloved Roxie.
Up until very recently, the law viewed animals as property: a judge would have merely had to decide who had legal title to the dog — not who could provide a better home. Recently, there has been a swing towards treating pets more like children in the US, with pet owners successfully suing for loss of companionship as well as the animal’s cash value when their pets were hurt or killed. And we’re not talking of token payments here: the highest award so far has been $35,000.
Some animal lovers fear this trend is actually going to have a negative effect on the lives of many pets: if you can sue your vet for tens of thousands of dollars for your emotional distress over Fluffy’s failed or botched surgery, veterinarians are going to have to start carrying much higher malpractice insurance — which will make the cost of professional care more than some lower-income pet-owners to afford.
But the fact remains that we humans love our animal companions, and their loss does affect us powerfully. And many pet-owners not only treat their animals as humans, they consider them to be part of their family — even referring to themselves as the pet’s “mom” or “dad.”
So when Brann takes Dalby to court, we may see a new chapter being written in the annals of divorce: the judge will have to decide what is in Guinness’s best interests (joint custody? visitation for Christmas and summer holidays?), just as if he were a child.