This can be applied in nearly any scenario; however, I am nesting this conversation in the context of a breakup.
Hopefully, when a "breakup" occurs, it is one where everyone goes his or her way. However, not all breakups happen as we hope.
In the State of New York, Animals are Considered Personal Property or Chattle, but with a Twist!
Although it’s hard to fathom a comfort animal such as a dog or cat being property—that is how our furry friends are considered under New York Law—except there is a small twist, the twist is explained below. Under New York Law, one remedy (and the most common) to recover personal property is Replevin.
What is Replevin?
Replevin in the context used here is a civil legal action that allows the owner, or person entitled to repossession of goods, or chattels, to recover those goods or chattels from one who has wrongfully detained or taken, or who wrongfully detains such goods or chattels.
What is a Comfort Animal?
A comfortable animal is considered an animal such as a dog, cat, rabbit, and more, hundreds more. A comfort animal is considered any number of pets that keep you company, add fun, exercise, joy, to your life as well as imposing on you a great sense of responsibility to that animal.
Is Replevin the Correct Action to Bring to Get my Pet Back?
Under New York Law, replevin is the correct cause of action to bring against a person who refuses to give you your comfort animal back. The goal is to reunite you with your comfort animal. This was made clear in the case of Maureen WEBB v. Christine PAPASPIRIDAKOS.
In Webb, “the plaintiff [had] commenced this action, her third lawsuit, in order to recover her dog. Plaintiff instituted at least three litigations, all in [the Supreme Court], to recover her pet: Webb v. Weinstein, index number 23400/05, Webb v. Papaspiridakos, index number 2732/2006, and the instant action under index number 761/2008. These actions concern[ed] the ownership of 'Precious,' a Jack Russell terrier, originally purchased by the plaintiff and [who was then] in the custody of the defendant."
The Court in Webb explains that while Replevin is the correction action to recover possession of an animal, that over time, ”New York courts have realized that dogs and cats are not just property—they are a special category of property. In Raymond v. Lachmann, when determining the ownership and possession of a cat, the court recognized 'the cherished status accorded to pets in our society, the strong emotions engendered by disputes of this nature, and the limited ability of the courts to resolve them satisfactorily.'” Therefore, when possible, New York Courts will use a "Best for All Standard," where the replevin of a comfort animal is concerned.
What is a Best for All Standard?
To put the best for all standards into context I juxtapose it with a court determining what is in the "Best Interest of the Child." For example, in a child custody matter, the Court generally narrowly focuses and makes its decisions after carefully considering the ultimate goal of fostering and encouraging the child's happiness, security, mental health, and emotional development into young adulthood. Whereas, as it pertains to comfortable animals, New York Courts consider what is the "Best for All" when deciding where the comfort animal should remain.
The Raymond Court, mentioned above, illustrated factors courts will weigh under a best for all analysis that consists of intangible, subjective factors which transcended the ordinary strict property analysis used to determine ownership and superior right to possession. The court there considered what was “best for all concerned,” and determined that, considering the elderly cat's life expectancy, the special relationship that existed between the cat and the person who cared for the cat, it should remain where it has “lived, prospered, loved and been loved for the past four years.”
What if I paid for the Animal together, Me and My Ex Have a Strong Relationship with the Animal Together, What does a Court Do Then?
In a case where both parties claimed to have purchased and selected a confort animal together and they both have a strong relationship with the animal and extensive involvement with the animal’s care, the courts are tasked to determine which party had the most genuine right of possession and who is in the best position to meet the animal’s daily physical and emotional needs based on a healthy, active lifestyle, time constraints, type of home and yard, emotional bond, safety concerns, financial ability, opportunities to socialize with other animals, access to animal-friendly parks and outdoor activities and access to veterinary care and pet stores. The court will also consider each party's ability to care for the animal, including, but not necessarily limited to, feeding, watering, walking, grooming, bathing petting, playing, training, taking the dog to the veterinarian, and engaging in other recreational and animal-friendly activities. The court in Christopher M. MITCHELL, v. Madeline R. SNIDER, illustrates the application of such an analysis:
"Although important, ownership is just one factor to consider when determining who should possess the dog based on the best for all concerned analysis. The court must also consider intangible factors such as why each party would benefit from having the dog in his or her life and why the dog has a better chance of prospering, loving, and being loved in the care of one party or the other. Additionally, the court considers who is in the best position to meet the dog's daily physical and emotional needs based on a healthy, active lifestyle, time constraints, type of home and yard, emotional bond, safety concerns, financial ability, opportunities to socialize with other dogs, access to dog-friendly parks and outdoor activities and access to veterinary care and pet stores. The court will also consider each party's ability to care for the dog, including, but not necessarily limited to, feeding, watering, walking, grooming, bathing petting, playing, training, taking the dog to the veterinarian, and engaging in other recreational and dog-friendly activities."
However, when the best for all standard fails to produce enough information for the court to make a determination under the standard—the backup is rooted in replevin.
Will Your Office Take Me Seriously?
The Law Office of Victor M. Feraru knows that a comfort animal of any kind is a family member to you. Victor's office prosecutes civil cases on behalf of those who need to recover comfort animals of all kinds.
You will find that working with the Law Office of Victor M. Feraru, a New York attorney who primarily serves Nassau County, Suffolk County, New York County, Kings County, Queens County, and the Metro New York City area, is that Victor provides personal service to all of his clients. He is dedicated to positive outcomes for his clients and takes his client's goals seriously. Reach out to Victor for a free consultation today.