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A dog is regarded within the legal system as a ‘chattel’. Essentially, they are viewed as an item that is owned a bit like a car or an item of furniture! We fully appreciate that to its owner a dog is more likely to be regarded as a much-loved member of the family but do not assume that this will be how it is viewed by the Court. During a dog ownership dispute, a Court will determine who the owner is. These types of ‘tug of love’ cases are usually heard in the Small Claims Court and an application can be made for declaration of ownership under the Torts (Interference With Goods) Act 1977. The following may also be ordered:
In a situation where a Small Claims Court is involved, the District Judge has the power to determine who is the dog’s sole owner and they then may direct that this person has sole possession. However, a Court is not bound to require that the owner have possession of a dog as this is a discretionary remedy. In particular, the Court may have regard to the conduct of the parties (“he who comes to equity must come with clean hands”) and consider any delay there may have been (“delay defeats equity”).
If the Court rules that the dog is jointly owned, the Court may order that:-
There is no one single piece of evidence that conclusively proves who owns a dog. A Small Claims Court will consider a variety of information when determining pet ownership and a District Judge is entitled to give such weight to this evidence as they deem fit. These include written and oral evidence on:
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