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After divorce, court won't allow joint dog custody

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MONTPELIER, Vt. — A veterinarian who takes his dog to work every day will not have to share custody with his ex-wife, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled Friday, agreeing with a lower court that found the dog was accustomed to the routine.

The lower court last year assigned ownership of the then 11-year-old German wirehaired pointer to the husband, Daniel Hament, a Richmond veterinarian.

Hament's ex-wife Laura Baker appealed to the Supreme Court saying the court erred by not considering giving the dog to both spouses in a joint arrangement. The Vermont Supreme Court found that the lower court was right in ruling that family division cannot enforce a visitation or shared custody order for animals.

In the case of pets, other factors not set out in the law may be considered in a family division such as the welfare of the animal and the emotional connection between the animal and each spouse, the Supreme Court said. The lower court found that either spouse would provide the dog a good life but that the dog was accustomed to the routine of going to the veterinary clinic every day with Hament.

The lower court found the husband "treats the dog like a dog" and Baker treats the dog like a child and is more doting, so it decided that the dog would be better off with the husband's balanced attitude, the Supreme Court said.

In her appeal, Baker said the court's favoring the husband's attitude toward the dog was not supported by evidence, the Supreme Court said.

Baker's lawyer did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. Hament's lawyer, Matthew Buckley, said he was not surprised by Friday's ruling.

Superior Court Judge Linda Levitt made clear that dogs are very special — not the same as property like a painting — but for legal purposes under Vermont law she could only award the dog to one party, Buckley said.

"She made it very, very clear that she was not going to consider a sharing arrangement or custodial arrangement or anything that would have the dog going back and forth between the parties. And she was basing that upon what she viewed to be the status of Vermont law," said Buckley, who described the hearing as emotional.

Buckley said that he is a dog lover, and so are the opposing lawyer and the judge.

"And so everybody that day was very much aware of what was at stake emotionally. And I don't think that there was any doubt at all that it was going to be a difficult time for whoever did not receive the dog," he said.


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