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Dog ownership split between multiple exes makes for tricky B.C. custody case

B.C. woman ordered to return dog to ex, ex’s old partner despite claim it was gifted to her verbally
A rottweiler puppy waits to be examined by a veterinarian during a free animal health care clinic for the pets of low or no income residents, in Abbotsford in 2019. A May 2022 B.C. small claims decision involving a rottweiler demonstrates the complexity of shared pet custody. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A recent dog custody battle is highlighting the complexities of split pet ownership after a B.C. woman was ordered to return a dog to her ex and that ex’s old girlfriend.

The original couple, Elaine Hughes and Philip Arnold, bought a rottweiler named Onyxia together in January 2017, and agreed to share custody of it after they later broke up, a May 20th small claims ruling shows. When Arnold began dating another woman, Lori Arscott, in 2019 and moved in with her, she too started caring for and covering Onyxia’s expenses.

Arnold and Arscott had an on-again off-again relationship, according to the ruling, with Arnold sometimes leaving Onyxia with Arscott when they broke up, and sometimes taking it with him or bringing it to Hughes’ house instead. In February 2021, they officially ended their relationship and the dispute around ownership began.

Arscott claimed she never knew Hughes shared ownership of Onyxia, and that Arnold gifted the rottweiler to her in a verbal conversation several days after their final breakup. She provided the small claims court with written statements from friends and family backing up her claim, as well as a statement from the counsellor her and Arnold both went to.

Tribunal vice chair Andrea Ritchie declined to give any of the statements weight though, noting that none of the writers were present for the alleged conversation, and that the counsellor was likely breaching ethical obligations by sharing information regarding Arnold without his consent.

“Given this, I find (the counsellor’s) statement is advocacy and is not neutral,” Ritchie wrote in her ruling.

Arnold denied the conversation ever took place.

Ritchie said it was clear all parties were emotionally attached to Onyxia.

“However, the law treats pets as personal property, rather than family members,” she wrote.

READ ALSO: Dogs are property, not kids, B.C. judge tells former couple

In her ruling, she said she found Hughes and Arnold had a stronger ownership claim as they remained “intimately involved” in Onyxia’s care and expenses even when she lived with Arscott during her and Arnold’s break up periods.

Ritchie ordered Arscott to return Onyxia to Hughes and Arnold, along with the $800 pet deposit Arnold paid her when he moved in at the start of their relationship. Ritchie also denied Arscott’s own expense claims for the time she cared for Onyxia while refusing to return her to Hughes and Arnold.

Arscott said she paid $738.90 for various Bosley’s and PetSmart expenses, $380.00 for dog walking and $2,086.01 for veterinary bills. Ritchie rejected them all, noting that the bank statements she was provided didn’t show what was purchased at Bosley’s and PetSmart, that the dog walking service wouldn’t have been necessary if Hughes and Arnold were given access to Onyxia, and that Arscott switched vets to ensure Hughes and Arnold didn’t have a say.

She ordered Arscott to pay Hughes and Arnold’s $175 tribunal fees as well as interest on the $800 pet deposit. Arscott has 28 days to object to the decision.

READ ALSO: The dogs of Al Magaw: How a prominent B.C. dog trainer lost his pack


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About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

Hi, I'm a provincial reporter with Black Press Media, where I've worked since 2020.
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