Under law, pets are treated as ‘chattels’, which just means an item that is owned. They will not be seen as a living thing and will be treated in the same way as inanimate objects, like a car.
If there is a dispute as to who should take possession of a pet, the first thing the courts would look at is who the legal owner is. Initially, that would be the person(s) who bought it, with any subsequent transfers of ownership dependent on the actual circumstances (e.g. was ownership transferred through sale or gift to someone else at any point).
If the legal owner has had their pet taken away by someone else, they have the following options:
1. The easiest one is to try and locate the pet and once it is on public property, beckon it to come. If it does, it can be taken away as it legally belongs to them
2. If that does not work or is not a viable option, the matter may have to be taken to court. If it ended up there, the following outcomes are possible:
- A declaration of ownership, and
- An order for the return of the pet, and
- An order for damages for wrongful retention of the pet
Just be aware though that even if the court orders that the pet be returned, no one can physically force the person who has it to do so. In that case, the court may simply decide that an order is made that the pet is sold and the proceeds shared, or just order the party who has it in their possession to compensate the other for their share of ownership.