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State Supreme Court Rules in Dog Custody Dispute

Pets are property, not family, Maine court says
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 29, 2019 2:47 AM CDT
State Supreme Court Rules in Dog Custody Dispute
This photo provided by Jessica Sardina shows her with Honey, a boxer-lab mix, in Bangor, Maine.   (Samantha Sardina via AP)

Maine's supreme court has upheld a ruling granting a man sole custody of his dog, denying his ex-girlfriend's bid to take the pet. The Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday affirmed that pets are property in confirming a district judge's decision that the Lab-boxer mix named Honey belongs to Kelvin Liriano, the man whose name appeared on adoption papers, the AP reports. His former girlfriend, Jessica Sardina, sued for custody, arguing that she had been the dog's sole caregiver and considers it to be family. The ruling was swift, and there was no written opinion. During arguments two weeks ago, Chief Justice Leigh Saufley questioned whether it is a good use of time for judges to analyze pet custody in cases involving unmarried couples.

Gene Sullivan, Sardina's lawyer, says he will ask state lawmakers to consider new standards for dealing with pet custody issues. "Yes, the court process has reached its conclusion, but the legislature is the next logical step," he tells the Portland Press Herald. "On one end of the spectrum, we have custody laws for children. On the other, we have property laws for property. In Maine, it is time to change where along this spectrum companion animals belong. I would argue closer to the middle, on the custody side." Pets are considered property in all 50 states. Only three states—Alaska, Illinois, and California—have specific laws that address pet custody when a marriage dissolves. (California's new law allows judges to consider factors including who feeds and walks the pet.)

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