In a case of first impression, a New Jersey appeals court has ordered that the legal doctrine of "specific performance" applies to ownership of an estranged couple’s pet dog and that payment of money damages cannot compensate for the "special subjective benefits" of pet ownership.
In Houseman v. Dare, decided and approved for publication on March 10, 2009, the court concluded that "There is no reason for a court of equity to be more wary in resolving competing claims for possession of a pet on one party’s sincere affection for and attachment to it than in resolving competing claims based on one party’s sincere attachment for an inanimate object…".
The case included briefs from Animal Legal Defense Fund and Lawyers in Defense of Animals which both urged the court to adopt a rule that requires consideration of the best interests of the dog. In many households, a dog, cat or other pet is a "member of the family" with whom lasting attachments are made by adults and children. In such circumstances, Houseman points the way to resolve competing claims and implicitly elevates the legal status of "man’s best friend" and his counterparts.