Kona and Mr. Bear: A tale of a horrible divorce and pet visitation rights in Washington state

We now have the story of two dogs, Kona and Mr. Bear, and the acrimonious custody combat in Clark County in between the divorced few who experienced them as element of their household. 

A whole lot of phrases have been exchanged. There were being 551 internet pages of filings despatched up to the state’s Court of Appeals.

In the close, on Oct. 4, the courtroom decided Mariah Thomas, of La Center in Southwest Washington, was out of luck. The court docket reversed a Excellent Court ruling providing her visitation rights with the two “babies,” as the court noted equally events termed the canines.

“It’s devastating. They’re like your children,” she claims.

Bottom line from the three judges: In this state, pets are house, and you don’t get the right to pay a visit to property.

Pay back notice, you partners sharing that pet dog or cat when lifetime is all cuddles and adorable texts.

What takes place when the cuddles close and the texts change vitriolic, and you make a decision to go your different strategies?

It can get horrible in this age when 71% of millennial pet homeowners (those people ages 25-40) contemplate their pet to be their “starter youngster,” in accordance to a January 2020 Harris Poll completed for TD Ameritrade, the on the internet broker.

As Elizabeth Lindsey, an Atlanta lawyer who’s president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, describes in an e-mail, “So prepare in advance for what possession will be, what ‘custodial’ time will be … This can be resolved by deal in a prenuptial arrangement.”

Otherwise, probably you are going to be pondering everyday living without your Kona and Mr. Bear.

For the reason that of the pandemic, suggests Lindsey, she expects pet litigation to rise, a combination of cats and canines becoming “great companions” in this time of isolation, but also marriages going bitter.

Most likely it’s because 24/7 with a doggy doesn’t get on your nerves as considerably as 24/7 with a wife or husband.

French fries and pet dog biscuits

Kona and Mr. Bear experienced been living with Thomas’ former partner, Doug Niemi, of Washougal, at any time considering that she moved out in 2018 right after 27 yrs of relationship.

“These pet dogs were being my emotional help animals, my companions,” says Thomas. “These puppies have a correct to see me. We require to have the regulations changed. They are not a auto, spoon or sofa. But in the eyes of the law, that’s what they are. It treats them like inanimate objects.”

On a modern evening, she is saying all this as she talks on her cellphone while on one particular of her visits with the puppies — visits that are envisioned to conclude soon. As she’s driving around the back again roadways in the Washougal spot, the two canine undertaking what they like accomplishing on drives. Sticking their heads out the window.

Till the appeals courtroom reversal filters again down to Exceptional Courtroom, her former husband is abiding by the original divorce decree.

In addition to splitting up the finances, the Superior Court docket awarded Thomas visitation with the canine for 3 hours on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, commencing at 5:45 p.m.

How chilly did issues get between the couple?

They under no circumstances talk to every other during the pickups and drop-offs. Thomas texts Niemi that she has arrived and he lets the pet dogs out in the backyard. And vice-versa.

On this night, she has pushed straight from her occupation as nursing circumstance manager at a Vancouver clinic to Washougal so as not to skip any moment of the three hrs.

“I choose them to Burgerville, get French fries and canine biscuits (given out by the hamburger joint). They get incredibly fired up. We go to Starbucks, they get a Puppaccino. They appreciate the whipped cream,” suggests Thomas.

Thomas estimates she’s invested $7,000 or additional in lawyer fees in the attractiveness, and Niemi’s legal professional claims appeals expenses for his consumer “were substantial.” Niemi, whose LinkedIn profile lists him as a fleet upkeep experienced, declined to be interviewed.

In the attraction, the courtroom acknowledged the couple “texted each and every other routinely about the dogs’ slumber schedules, grooming, behavior training, work out and social outings.”

But, explained the court, the canines could not be considered beneath youngster custody statutes.

“To the contrary, our courts traditionally and regularly have characterized animals, even loved ones animals, as personalized house,” explained the court.

And, it claimed, the canines have been Niemi’s property and in a divorce, point out regulation “contains no provision for pet visitation.”

The relationship developed two adult small children, the human form.

The pet dogs had essentially turn into their new children.

Kona, a labradoodle (combine of Labrador retriever and poodle) and Mr. Bear, a goldendoodle (blend of golden retriever and poodle) arrived into the lives of the couple as puppies about two a long time ahead of Thomas moved out.

As the couple’s marriage hit the skids, Thomas moved from the household household into an RV about an hour’s travel away. She’s now bought a household.

Just after the separation, in an informal arrangement, the pet dogs ongoing residing with Niemi, and Thomas would check out them a number of situations a week and occasionally even get them to her RV park.

In the divorce proceedings, Thomas requested for a court buy specifying she could visit the pet dogs.

“I need to see them they have to have to see me. Mr. Niemi agrees I’m emotionally attached to them. I do not truly have confidence in that he’ll let me see them with out a court get,” she testified.

In the proceedings, Niemi mentioned he was ready to allow his previous wife see the canines. “It just wants to be on a small extra confined basis.”

But then arrived the Exceptional Court final decision specifically mandating visitations on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Niemi appealed.

In an email, his lawyer, James Marston, of Camas, states, “Mr. Niemi understandably felt that he experienced to bear down really hard on this trouble.”

Marston claims that visits, “52 weeks a year, to his residence by an ex-spouse with whom he does not in particular get along,” had been “oppressive from the starting.”

Now, states the lawyer, “More than a 12 months and a 50 percent next the divorce, Mr. Niemi is last but not least no cost to take a getaway and typically system his evenings 3 days a 7 days as satisfies him fairly than as dictated by a court docket purchase for visitation of the canines awarded to him in the divorce decree.”

Pets in the courts

Marston says that in studying, he’s very specified this is the 1st time a pet custody scenario has reached this large up in the point out courts.

This was an essential enough case that it drew the notice of the California-centered Animal Authorized Protection Fund., which filed a friend of the courtroom transient with the Washington appeals courtroom.

The quick argued that companion animals are “sentient beings who are capable of forming strong two-way psychological bonds that a massive the greater part of Americans explain as familial.”

The short even quoted the late Stephen Hawking that “non-human animals” have the “neurological substrates that make consciousness.”

It noted that 3 states have acknowledged how essential pets have develop into to us. Alaska, Illinois and California have passed legislation authorizing judges to purchase joint ownership of companion animals.

And in Spain, a “pioneering” court ruling issued Oct. 7 by a Madrid choose granted a pair joint custody more than Panda, a border collie they shared even though dwelling together for 20 months, described RTVE, the country’s general public radio and Television set service. Amongst proof at the demo ended up pics in which “the 3 are observed as a family members, accurately the identical as if it were being a household picture with little ones,” stated a law firm for an animal-proper legislation firm.

Thomas’ attorney is Adam Karp, of Bellingham, who specializes in animal legislation. He has acquired prominence with conditions these types of as the $100,000 settlement in 2016 for a dog proprietor whose Chucky the spaniel was shot to dying by a neighbor in the Tri-Cities.

Karp’s quick provided reference to information tales about how Seattle has extra dogs than small children and how “it is more and more customary for partners to decide on not to have youngsters at all, as an alternative constructing their families close to nonhuman companions.”

Karp suggests his shopper is deciding no matter if to get the circumstance to the state Supreme Courtroom.

Marston says that now an informal pet visitation arrangement in this circumstance is pretty unlikely.  

“Mr. Niemi has uncovered all sorts of communication with his ex-wife adhering to the divorce to be an aggravation,” he claims.

For now, Thomas claims she waits for the inevitable although she, Kona and Mr. Bear generate all around.

“We chat, we pay attention to audio,” suggests Thomas.

Each and every time she drops them off just after a pay a visit to, “I marvel if this is it. I’ll under no circumstances see them once again.”