The Korea Herald


Canine custody clash: Does dog belong to buyer or guardian?

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : June 22, 2024 - 16:01

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A stock photo of a golden retriever. This image is not directly related to the article. (123rf) A stock photo of a golden retriever. This image is not directly related to the article. (123rf)

A messy canine custody battle broke out recently after a woman sued her son's former girlfriend, claiming ownership of a golden retriever who had lived with her for years but is legally owned by the ex-girlfriend.

Seoul High Court recently ruled in favor of the ex-girlfriend, overturning an earlier ruling that granted the mother ownership of the animal.

"There is no evidence to believe that (the ex-girlfriend) explicitly expressed her will to give the dog to the plaintiff," the court said in its ruling.

It also pointed out that after the plaintiff neutered the dog in November 2020, she told her son to inform his then-girlfriend of the procedure, saying this was proof that the plaintiff thought the dog belonged to the defendant at the time.

The female golden retriever in question was adopted by the defendant in August of 2017, but she had frequently asked the mother of her then-boyfriend to take care of the dog since then. In August of 2020, she had the dog live permanently in the plaintiff's home, saying her new home did not allow pets.

The dispute occurred when she broke up with the plaintiff's son and took the dog in February 2022. The plaintiff's son did not protest the woman taking the dog, which the appellate court said was another piece of evidence that the family regarded the defendant as the rightful owner.

The appellate court's decision marked a contrast from a lower court ruling, which ordered the dog to be returned to the plaintiff.

"Unlike other property, a pet dog forms an emotional attachment (with people), and (the defendant) destroyed such attachment unilaterally by taking the dog. It is appropriate to believe that she gave up the ownership of the animal," the court said in its verdict. The court also pointed out that the plaintiff shouldered most of the costs in raising the dog, and her son had been officially registered as her owner.

But the appellate court said the registration of the dog was for an administrative procedure, and is not directly related to the ownership.

The plaintiff has appealed the case, leaving the decision to the Supreme Court.