Dogs are property, not kids, judge tells former Salmon Arm couple

Court decision made on competing lawsuits over Zeus and Aurora — a pit bull and pit bull cross

By Tim Petruk

Kamloops This Week

Dogs are not children — nor are they toasters.

So ruled a Kamloops judge in the case of a former Salmon Arm couple suing each other over a pair of pit bulls they bought while together.

Raiann Almaas and Michael David Wheeler each filed competing lawsuits over Aurora, a pit bull cross purchased in 2015, and Zeus, a pit bull bought in 2016.

When the dogs were bought, Almaas and Wheeler lived together and were involved in a romantic relationship. They broke up in December 2017 and stopped living together a few months later.

Wheeler paid for the dogs, court heard, but Almaas provided much of the care for them while Wheeler worked out of town for stretches sometimes lasting two months.

During trial, which took place over one day each in November and January, Wheeler said Aurora and Zeus were treated as though they were the couple’s children.

Court heard Almaas had the dogs for the majority of the time between Wheeler moving out in early 2018 and May 2019. She estimated she paid about $2,500 for their care in that time.

Almaas said she gave the dogs to Wheeler on May 26, 2019, on the understanding he would have them for two weeks. He did not return them, court heard.

Read more: Vernon’s beloved pudgy pit bull moved to Cranbrook

Read more: Bystander who tried to help dog being attacked not liable for its death: B.C. tribunal

Read more: Eleven dogs rescued; transported from Texas to the Okanagan despite pandemic

Almaas sued, seeking the return of the dogs and repayment for vet bills she had covered — totalling more than $13,500.

Wheeler’s counterclaim sought $12,187 for the cost of the dogs, training expenses and vet bills, as well as 50/50 shared custody of Aurora and Zeus.

In her decision, made public on Thursday, April 2, Kamloops provincial court Judge Stella Frame said the court cannot treat pets like kids, so no shared parenting can be implemented.

“The law is clear that dogs, even those purchased in the course of a relationship as a family pet, are property,” Frame said. “It is the nature of that property and how ownership of it is determined that is a bit more unique to pet cases than it is to toasters or other inanimate objects.”

Frame figuratively cut the baby in half — ordering that Almaas keep Aurora and Wheeler keep Zeus.

Frame dismissed all claims for money.

“In the end result, both parties own these dogs,” she said. “Ms. Almaas wanted Aurora for company and clearly drew comfort from her. Mr. Wheeler loves these dogs as well.”

Frame ordered the exchange of the animals and any of their toys or property take place by April 15. She also required that Almaas and Wheeler comply with social distancing during the exchange.

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