A Dog Named “Copper”: Did Woman Give Him to the Man Before They Split?
In King v. Mann, the relationship between the unmarried couple was volatile, and so was their separation. Among the many property-related issues still to be determined after they split (some of which we covered earlier: here), was the ownership and residency of their dog, Copper, who by all accounts had been purchased by the woman but was equally loved and cared for by both parties.
The man claimed that even though he had not seen Copper since he and the woman split up a year earlier, he loved the dog and wanted him back. He claimed Copper was actually a gift to him from the woman.
The woman categorically denied giving any such gift; she said Copper had always been her dog, and had no intentions of sharing him or letting him go.
The court began this part of the judgment this way:
Notwithstanding the universal agreement in the case law that dogs, being sentient beings, are a special, important, and unique category of personal property, for the purposes of practicality and expediency the law continues to hold that disputes over dogs are to be approached in the same manner as with any other personal property, namely the relevant question is ownership.
Since the former couple agreed that the woman had purchased the dog and was the sole owner, the legal question was simply whether the man had established that Copper’s ownership had changed. The court began this aspect of the analysis with a caution:
While there are several ways that could happen, the [man] spending time with the dog, spending money on the dog, and/or treating the dog generally as the family pet, would not affect a change in ownership. … In fairness, the [man] did not make those arguments. Rather, he asserted that there was an explicit moment of gifting, namely when the dog was first introduced to him.
It is trite law that the required elements to establish a gift are intention of the donor to give, delivery of the gift, and acceptance of the gift by the donee.
But after scrutinizing the facts and circumstances in detail, and comparing them against these three elements, it was clear to the court that the man had not proven his case.
First, it was evident that the pet-loving woman never intended to give away Copper – in fact she had bought it behind the man’s back since he had made it clear he did not want a dog at all. Nor was there any birthday, anniversary or other occasion that would prompt a gift-giving.
Next, there was no evidence of “delivery”, since the woman had merely brought the dog to their jointly owned home. But perhaps most importantly, the evidence showed that even after the woman brought Copper home, the man was admittedly still unhappy about the new family member, and showed no indication that he accepted the so-called “gift” to him. Even if it could be said that the man eventually acquiesced and accepted Copper into his home and heart, this was not the legal threshold; his initial rejection at the time Copper was brought home was the pivotal point. As the court explained:
The intended recipient cannot revive a previously rejected or incomplete gift by later accepting it, rather it would need to be re-offered. Further, the [man’s] accepting the dog into his life and heart does not equate to his communicating acceptance of the alleged gift to the [woman].
Finally, the court conceded that there was shared responsibility for the dog’s care, grooming, and food during the couple’s relationship. However, once they split up in 2017 the woman did not allow the man to see Copper anymore, and his claim that he wanted the dog was also curiously late-breaking in the separation process. Indeed the first time the man raised the issue of Copper’s ownership and residence was a full year after he last saw the dog at all.
In the end, the court concluded:
In my view the [man] has not established any one, and certainly not all, of the three elements of a gift on a balance of probabilities. The [woman] owns Copper. The [man’s] claim to him is dismissed.
For the full text of the decision, see:
King v. Mann, 2020 ONSC 108
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