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Divorce Leads To Dog Fight

 

From — St. Louis Post-Dispatch

December 4, 1992

By William C. Lhotka Of the Post Dispatch Staff

In the newest custody wrinkle, a judge has given a St. Charles man one dog and his estranged wife the other. The couple may prefer living apart, but will the dogs? The court order speaks to that question, too.

On Sunday, just six days after the split, the dogs will meet at a grocery parking lot in Overland for an eight hour get together. The next day, they’ll visit a veterinarian a physical and for a determination of the emotional effects, if any, of their separation. It’s all part of an order handed down Monday in St. Louis County Circuit Court, the first of its kind in Missouri,

The order gives the couple joint custody and visiting rights, just as judges routinely grant joint custody and visiting rights to parents.

One dog, Fishban, an Australian shepherd mix, 3 ½ years old, goes to Carla Julius of Hanley Hills. And for now, anyway, the other dog, 2 1/2-year old Tasselhof, a beagle mix, goes to Tony Julius of St. Charles.

The couple separated on Nov. 11. Carla Julius, a hospital employee, sought a court orders to keep her husband from the house they had shared and from taking the two dogs. “My dogs are my children,” she said.

In an interview Thursday, Tony Julius, a sound system installer, said he felt the same way about the dogs. So he hired a lawyer, Margo Green, just as his wife had hired Leigh Joy Carson.

The settlement was approved Monday by Associate Circuit Judge Dennis J. Quillin. Each party gets possession of one dog six days a week; each gets both dogs every Sunday for four hours.

Green, Tony Julius’ lawyer, said, “My argument was the judge has jurisdiction over personal possessions. A family pet comes under the category of personal possession because it is not a human being. I felt it was equitable if each person had a dog.

“For people who don’t have children, pets become very important,” said Green, former treasurer of the Missouri Humane Society. She said she had found no comparable case in Missouri, though she noted that there have been cases in Missouri where people leave estates to Pets.”

Associate Circuit Judge Samuel J. Hais has heard hundreds of divorce cases, but never a dog custody case. He said pets generally went where the children went. He said most major disputes over animals involved horses, which can be worth a lot and expensive to care for. Although pet custody cases remain uncommon nationwide, disputes are increasingly winding up in court.

In Milwaukee, a woman said she’d go to jail rather than surrender her cat. In the end, she got custody, and her ex got visiting rights. In Pulaski, Tenn., a pet frog died during lengthy court proceedings. An out of court settlement was worked out for a parakeet, but the matter of Aristotle, a doberman-Labrador, required a court order. The judge added a provision that the dog “not be allowed to associate with ill-bred animals and that it not be allowed to drink alcoholic beverages.”

Linda Cawley, a lawyer in Denver, has made a career out of contracts and litigation involving pets. She is consulted by lawyers throughout the country on such legal issues as custody, visitation, who pays bills if an animal injures someone and who decides whether pets need to be put to steep.

Serious stuff, but Tony Julius has had to suffer through jokes from his coworkers. “I wouldn’t have gone through with this it I didn’t really believe in it,” he said.

The New York Times News Services provided information for this story.

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