Kona and Mr. Bear: A tale of a unpleasant divorce and pet visitation legal rights in Washington point out

We now have the story of two canines, Kona and Mr. Bear, and the acrimonious custody combat in Clark County concerning the divorced pair who had them as portion of their house. 

A large amount of terms have been exchanged. There were being 551 webpages of filings despatched up to the state’s Court of Appeals.

In the finish, on Oct. 4, the court determined Mariah Thomas, of La Heart in Southwest Washington, was out of luck. The courtroom reversed a Outstanding Courtroom ruling offering her visitation rights with the two “babies,” as the court pointed out both of those events called the canines.

“It’s devastating. They’re like your young children,” she claims.

Bottom line from the 3 judges: In this point out, animals are assets, and you really do not get the proper to check out property.

Spend attention, you partners sharing that pet or cat when daily life is all cuddles and cute texts.

What comes about when the cuddles stop and the texts switch vitriolic, and you decide to go your individual strategies?

It can get nasty in this age when 71% of millennial pet homeowners (those ages 25-40) consider their pet to be their “starter little one,” according to a January 2020 Harris Poll accomplished for TD Ameritrade, the on the net broker.

As Elizabeth Lindsey, an Atlanta lawyer who’s president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, explains in an electronic mail, “So plan forward for what ownership will be, what ‘custodial’ time will be … This can be tackled by contract in a prenuptial settlement.”

Usually, possibly you will be pondering lifestyle without having your Kona and Mr. Bear.

Mainly because of the pandemic, suggests Lindsey, she expects pet litigation to increase, a combination of cats and puppies becoming “great companions” in this time of isolation, but also marriages likely sour.

Most likely it’s simply because 24/7 with a pet dog does not get on your nerves as significantly as 24/7 with a husband or wife.

French fries and puppy biscuits

Kona and Mr. Bear had been living with Thomas’ previous partner, Doug Niemi, of Washougal, at any time since she moved out in 2018 just after 27 many years of marriage.

“These dogs had been my emotional assist animals, my companions,” says Thomas. “These canine have a right to see me. We need to have to have the regulations adjusted. They’re not a motor vehicle, spoon or couch. But in the eyes of the legislation, which is what they are. It treats them like inanimate objects.”

On a new night, she is saying all this as she talks on her cellphone though on 1 of her visits with the pet dogs — visits that are envisioned to end quickly. As she’s driving all-around the back again roadways in the Washougal area, the two canines undertaking what they like performing on drives. Sticking their heads out the window.

Until eventually the appeals court reversal filters back down to Exceptional Courtroom, her former husband is abiding by the primary divorce decree.

Moreover splitting up the funds, the Remarkable Court awarded Thomas visitation with the dogs for three hrs on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, beginning at 5:45 p.m.

How chilly did issues get amongst the pair?

They by no means talk to each and every other in the course of the pickups and fall-offs. Thomas texts Niemi that she has arrived and he allows the canine out in the backyard. And vice-versa.

On this evening, she has driven straight from her position as nursing case supervisor at a Vancouver medical center to Washougal so as not to miss out on any moment of the a few hrs.

“I choose them to Burgerville, get French fries and doggy biscuits (given out by the hamburger joint). They get really enthusiastic. We go to Starbucks, they get a Puppaccino. They adore the whipped cream,” says Thomas.

Thomas estimates she’s expended $7,000 or additional in lawyer fees in the appeal, and Niemi’s lawyer suggests appeals charges for his shopper “were considerable.” Niemi, whose LinkedIn profile lists him as a fleet upkeep professional, declined to be interviewed.

In the attractiveness, the courtroom acknowledged the few “texted every other frequently about the dogs’ rest schedules, grooming, behavior teaching, exercising and social outings.”

But, stated the courtroom, the pet dogs could not be thought of underneath child custody statutes.

“To the contrary, our courts historically and consistently have characterised animals, even family members pets, as own home,” mentioned the court docket.

And, it reported, the pet dogs were being Niemi’s house and in a divorce, state legislation “contains no provision for pet visitation.”

The marriage created two adult little ones, the human variety.

The puppies experienced in essence become their new children.

Kona, a labradoodle (combine of Labrador retriever and poodle) and Mr. Bear, a goldendoodle (combine of golden retriever and poodle) came into the life of the couple as puppies about two yrs prior to Thomas moved out.

As the couple’s marriage hit the skids, Thomas moved from the family residence into an RV about an hour’s travel absent. She’s now bought a household.

Just after the separation, in an informal arrangement, the puppies continued living with Niemi, and Thomas would visit them several instances a week and in some cases even get them to her RV park.

In the divorce proceedings, Thomas questioned for a court docket order specifying she could check out the canines.

“I need to have to see them they have to have to see me. Mr. Niemi agrees I’m emotionally connected to them. I do not really have faith in that he’ll permit me see them without a court buy,” she testified.

In the proceedings, Niemi mentioned he was eager to permit his previous spouse see the puppies. “It just desires to be on a minimal much more confined basis.”

But then came the Superior Court determination specifically mandating visitations on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Niemi appealed.

In an e mail, his lawyer, James Marston, of Camas, says, “Mr. Niemi understandably felt that he experienced to bear down really hard on this dilemma.”

Marston suggests that visits, “52 months a yr, to his home by an ex-spouse with whom he does not particularly get together,” experienced been “oppressive from the starting.”

Now, says the attorney, “More than a calendar year and a half subsequent the divorce, Mr. Niemi is at last free to consider a trip and commonly strategy his evenings a few times a 7 days as suits him somewhat than as dictated by a courtroom purchase for visitation of the canine awarded to him in the divorce decree.”

Animals in the courts

Marston suggests that in studying, he’s very certain this is the initially time a pet custody case has arrived at this higher up in the condition courts.

This was an important sufficient scenario that it drew the interest of the California-primarily based Animal Lawful Defense Fund., which submitted a mate of the court docket temporary with the Washington appeals courtroom.

The quick argued that companion animals are “sentient beings who are able of forming powerful two-way psychological bonds that a massive vast majority of People in america describe as familial.”

The transient even quoted the late Stephen Hawking that “non-human animals” have the “neurological substrates that deliver consciousness.”

It pointed out that a few states have acknowledged how crucial pets have grow to be to us. Alaska, Illinois and California have handed laws authorizing judges to order joint possession of companion animals.

And in Spain, a “pioneering” courtroom ruling issued Oct. 7 by a Madrid decide granted a couple joint custody about Panda, a border collie they shared even though living with each other for 20 months, described RTVE, the country’s general public radio and Television assistance. Among the evidence at the trial had been shots in which “the 3 are found as a spouse and children, just the exact as if it ended up a household photograph with children,” explained a attorney for an animal-right regulation organization.

Thomas’ legal professional is Adam Karp, of Bellingham, who specializes in animal regulation. He has gained prominence with scenarios this sort of as the $100,000 settlement in 2016 for a canine owner whose Chucky the spaniel was shot to loss of life by a neighbor in the Tri-Towns.

Karp’s brief included reference to information stories about how Seattle has extra canines than kids and how “it is increasingly customary for couples to opt for not to have small children at all, alternatively setting up their family members around nonhuman companions.”

Karp claims his customer is determining whether or not to get the situation to the state Supreme Court docket.

Marston says that now an informal pet visitation arrangement in this situation is extremely not likely.  

“Mr. Niemi has identified all types of interaction with his ex-spouse subsequent the divorce to be an aggravation,” he states.

For now, Thomas says she waits for the unavoidable even though she, Kona and Mr. Bear travel all around.

“We chat, we hear to songs,” suggests Thomas.

Every single time she drops them off immediately after a go to, “I marvel if this is it. I’ll in no way see them once more.”