Your Pet: A Chair, Heirloom or Child?

Dexter is a handsome six-year old. His parents met in 1993, bought a house in 1999, got engaged in 2000 and welcomed Dexter to their home in 2000. When they broke up in 2006, his mom, Doreen Houseman, got custody of him, but his dad, Eric Dare, was given visitation.

That all changed nine months later, when Doreen dropped Dexter off at Eric’s when she went on a trip.

Eric was very angry and said Doreen would never see Dexter again. The next day, she called a lawyer.

Attorney Gina Calogero will be handling the case, after persuading a three-judge appeals court that Dexter is not just another piece of property. That’s essentially what Judge John Tomasello of Salem County, New Jersey, found, when he ruled that Dexter – a six-year old brown pooch – was property.

“Dogs are chairs; they’re furniture; they’re automobiles, they’re pensions. They’re not kids,” he wrote, in declining to consider Dexter’s sentimental value when he divided the couple’s assets. Tomasello ordered Eric to keep the dog and pay Doreen $1,500, which was the cost of the dog.

Calogero and the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Lawyers in Defense of Animals, who have joined the appeal, pointed out that the well-being of Michael Vick’s dogs were taken into consideration in the criminal context. Why should it be different for Dexter?

The appellate panel agreed, saying a pet is like “heirlooms, family treasures and works of art” whose “special subjective value” should be factored in by the court. The panel ruled that money damages were not adequate compensation. The panel did not rule that Dexter’s best interests should be considered.


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