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Client Buys Dog in China with Now-Ex-Boyfriend, Ownership Issue Arises


Who really owns a dog, a creature with its own free will and decisions to make? How can ownership of anything be established within a couple that never gets married? Does the fact that the dog was bought in a foreign country change anything? All of these questions and more needed to be addressed carefully in a recent dog ownership case in Rhode Island, which highlights just how complex an animal law case can really be.

The Quick Facts of the Chinese Dog Ownership Case

Higgins, the defendant, and the plaintiff, Champagne, in the dog ownership dispute traveled to China together in 2010 so Champagne could complete his studies. Shortly after arriving, the unmarried couple decided to buy a dog together. Both of them assumed near-equal responsibility and cost for the dog, who was named Hector.

In 2012, Higgins had to leave China due to her visa expiring. It was agreed that she take Hector back to the United States when she depart, and, therefore, she was tasked with paying all related expenses to his travel and export. As part of the agreed upon preparation to leave the country, Hector legally and technically became the sole property of Higgins, even though Higgins and Champagne felt they jointly owned Hector.

Higgins lived with her parents and Hector until Champagne could later return to the States, some two years later. Champagne never made an attempt to gain official joint ownership of Hector. Once the couple decided to split in 2015, only then did he try to gain ownership of the dog. Champagne attempted to use documents created in China to show he had ownership rights, but these were found to be unsound evidence to use in an American court of law.

Conclusion: Pets are Not Always “Property”

The court was faced with a difficult decision on how to view the dog. Neither Higgins nor Champagne claimed to be the sole purchaser of Hector. In a normal situation, the dog would be viewed as property and some sort of joint ownership would have to be established.

However, in this specific situation, the court ended up agreeing that the case had to consider what was “best for all concerned,” including Hector. Ruling away from pure property laws, the court held that Higgins belonged with Hector and Hector belonged with her, mainly due to the fact that they spent a great majority of time together; Champagne was more of a secondary owner due to time constraints. Only through this ownership setup could there be established what was “best for all concerned.”

Caring & Trustworthy Rhode Island Animal Law Attorneys

McIntyre Tate LLP has been serving the people of Rhode Island for more than 30 years, and we have more than 150 years of total legal experience. When you come to us for help with your animal law case, you can be confident that we will fight for what is best for you and your furry, feathery, or scaly loved one. Many of our animal law clients are veterinarians and animal adoption clinics who need help with intricate legal and compliance issues. We also focus on animal ownership disputes that can escalate to the courtroom.

Call (401) 351-7700 to request a case evaluation with our Providence animal law attorneys to get started.

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