Divorce or separation can be an extraordinarily stressful experience – especially for couples with dependents. However, increasingly, those dependents include not only the kids but the family pets as well. It might seem odd but many Americans care for their furry friends as they would for their own children, so when love turns sour the tug of war extends not just to the Ford but also to the family pooches. Indeed, when everything is at stake, the custody of pets can turn agreements into acrimony. There’s even a book on the subject: We Can’t Stay Together for the Dogs. Here are 10 of the most bizarre custody cases fought over family pets.
10. Tequila the Parrot
Tequila the African gray parrot was lucky enough to be a much loved bird – so much so that Tequila’s second owner named him Lucky. However, Tequila was originally owned by Angela Colicheski of Boca Raton, FL; the bird managed to escape, and was eventually taken in by Sarita Lytell. By chance, 3 years later, Colicheski and Lytell met at a Dunkin’ Donuts, and got to talking about their shared love of parrots, before realizing that they had at different times actually owned the same bird. At this point Colicheski asked Lytell to return him and when she refused, Colicheski sued. Lucky no more, Tequila was returned to Colicheski three months later and Lytell’s claim for the cost of keeping the bird was dismissed.
9. ‘Pepperoni’ the Border Collie
Custody battles aren’t always fought between husband and wife; sometimes the pooch’s godparents get involved as well. British lawyer Sandra Toye told The Independent about a case where a breeder had given ‘Pepperoni’, a border collie, to a friend, with no money or paperwork changing hands. When the friend split from her husband the breeder snatched ‘Pepperoni’ back, claiming that the dog was her property. More than 11 months and £20,000 ($30,000) later, the breeder gave in and returned the hound. The client commented: “I know it was financially dumb but my mindset all along was, ‘We’re not going to let them win’.”
8. Poppy the Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Take reality TV stars and add litigation and pets and you have the perfect recipe for a media circus. Brits Melanie Hill, of the first series of Big Brother in the UK, and Alex Sibley, who appeared in the third series, fell out big time over their pet Staffordshire bull terrier, Poppy – to the tune of a 13-month battle, costing £25,000 ($40,000). When the pair split at the end of a 2-year relationship, Melanie kept the pup, bought for £70 ($100) from Battersea Dogs Home, while Alex was arrested for harassment (for which he was later cleared). A judge eventually awarded the pair shared custody and called for Melanie to pay 80% of Alex’s costs as well as her own – while warning that the dog might be affected by the tension. Alex told the BBC: “She is a dog in a million… She is absolutely the best dog in the world.”
7. Lucy the Lamb
Not all custody battles are fought over pampered hounds; one Bethan Parkinson actually fought for, and eventually lost, custody of a sheep. Bethan bought Lucy the lamb as a pet for her daughter while living in Buckley, in the UK. However, she soon found that with four dogs, three cats and two ponies she had no room for Lucy, so she asked the manager of an animal rescue center if they could care for the animal. Five months later, having moved to North Wales, Bethan attempted to get the sheep back. The rescue center refused, so Bethan called the police. When four officers arrived she displayed a receipt for the sheep, for £30 ($45), and Lucy was returned. The rescue center then took legal action and won – saying Bethan had changed her mind after leaving Lucy with them.
6. Bailey the Staffordshire-Labrador cross
When British model Orla O’Rourke split from her boyfriend, male model Tim, he decided that their dog, Bailey, was his. Following an amicable private settlement, Orla took to making a two hour round trip from central London to Romford, Essex once a fortnight – an arrangement that lasted for more than 4 years. However, this wasn’t the first time that Orla had made the effort to keep in touch with separated pets. After breaking up with a boyfriend in the US, Orla flew transatlantic once every six weeks in order to spend a full week with the dogs the couple had shared. The ex would apparently sometimes try to stop her from seeing the dogs – so she waited until he was out and crept through the dog door. “There’s always a lot of strife around it,” she told the Daily Mail. “You see the worst of some people. It’s so easy to use the dog against your partner.”
5. Zena the Poodle
When Zena the poodle’s owners John and Lisa Roberts parted ways they couldn’t decide who would claim the then 5-year-old dog. After a one hour hearing, John was given Zena on weekdays and Lisa given her on weekends. Adding hyperbole to the proceedings, John’s attorney Joe Duncan commented: “It’s like what a Solomon decision might do. The parties just felt so strongly about this issue that it was very difficult for them to give in, and that’s what judges are for.” Fortunately no one suggested cutting Zena in half – though we hope neither party would have accepted the offer.
4. Gigi the Pointer-Greyhound cross
By now you might have got the message that when people fight over pets, they fight hard. When Dr Stanley Perkins parted ways with his wife Linda in 2000 they set a precedent for determination. In all the couple were reported to have spent $150,000 fighting over their pointer-greyhound cross-breed, Gigi, which they had adopted from an animal shelter. During a three day hearing, reports by animal behaviorists, bonding studies and a video on Gigi’s routine were all scrutinized. Linda even presented a birthday card from Gigi recognizing her as the dog’s ‘mommy’. She ultimately won custody.
3. Jakob the Horse
When parish councilor Anthony Ewen took Jakob the horse from his field, in the UK, it started a very peculiar chain of events. Anthony claimed that the horse, which had been bought while he was married to his ex-wife Chrissie McBurnie, would be happier and safer in another field, with other animals. The following night Chrissie and her friend Tracey Young held a silent protest at a parish council meeting with a poster of the horse. The police were called and four officers removed the pair from the meeting. Chrissie, who claims Anthony does not know the horse’s name, as he calls him Thunder, said: “He is doing this to hurt me. Jakob has hardly any cash value – you can buy ponies at auction for £50 ($75) these days. He might be worth £300 ($450) to the meat man but that is it.” It was alleged that she punched Anthony in the face two days later.
2. Trouble the Maltese
When ‘Queen of Mean’ Leona Helmsley died she left the largest bequest in her will, of $12m, to her Maltese, Trouble. A year later the dog’s trust fund was slashed to a mere $2m, with an annual expenditure of $100,000 to cover security, $8,000 on grooming and $1,200 for food. Carl Lekic, the general manager of the Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel, serves as a guardian for the spoiled pooch, on a salary of $60,000 a year. Mr Lekic might just be one rather lucky custodian.
1. Rocky the Golden Labrador
When New York businessman Marsh Newmark’s wife, opera singer Darynn Zimmer, left with the dog, things did not go well. Initially the couple shared Rocky the golden labrador, but, according to the New York Daily News, one day Darynn had a dog walker announce that Rocky would not be being returned and then accused Marsh of abusing the dog. The golden lab got a clean bill of health from a vet, but Darynn then announced she was moving to Connecticut. Distraught, Marsh asked a friend to apprehend Rocky while he was being walked. The friend was tackled by a doorman and the police were called, while the boyfriend reportedly shouted: “He’s stealing my dog!” It was then that the couple took Rocky to court – and after a $60,000 custody battle, Darynn retained custody.