Many couples decide to get a dog when their relationship becomes serious.  For obvious reasons, each spouse or significant other becomes extremely attached to the dog, making a break-up even more difficult. 


Relevant Law

            The Virginia Civil Jury Instruction on this issue (VCJI 29.010), states that “the owner of a [dog] must take notice of its general, natural inclinations or characteristics and of the inclinations or characteristics, if any, peculiar to the animal in this case that he knows about or should have known about.  If any of those inclinations or characteristics are of a kind likely to cause injury, the owner has a duty to use ordinary care to prevent any reasonably foreseeable injury.”


How is Ownership Determined?

            In Virginia, ownership of a domestic animal consists of a bundle of rights and/or characteristics, which show that someone is exercising “ownership” over the animal.  This bundle of rights would include, but is not limited to:

  • Providing shelter or a home for the animal
  • Providing food and water for the animal
  • Providing attention and affection to the animal
  • Training and teaching the animal to command
  • Exercising authority and discipline over the animal
  • Allowing an animal to live in or on your premises


Often, courts will consider these factors to be fact-specific and will need to hear the case in full in order to make their decision.  Therefore, there is no set formula to determine who will get custody of the animal when a relationship ends.


The law surrounding custody and ownership of animals can be tricky and fact-specific.  If you need an attorney to help you navigate this area of the law and prepare your case, call the attorneys of Smith Strong at (804) 325-1245 or (757) 941-4298. 

H. Van Smith
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Trusted Virginia Attorney Serving Richmond to Williamsburg