How 2 people and 1 dog turned an N.S. court case into a children’s movie

File: A dog lies at the heart of a Nova Scotia court decision that you have to read to believe. STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

In a story that sounds like something out of a children’s movie, one dog’s choice to stay with its owner seems to have played a role in a judge’s decision that ended the dispute over the ownership of the loyal mutt.

It’s similar to the ending of Air Bud, where in the dispute over the ownership of the eponymous golden retriever the judge allows the dog to choose its own owner.

The decision by Lily, a nine-year-old dog of mixed breed, did play a role in the adjudicator’s judgment but it’s the nature of the relationship between human and pet that adjudicator Eric Slone found to be the crux of the case.

Animals aren’t viewed as living beings but rather as property in Canadian law. Slone says it’s that legal basis that he has to make that decision, even though he doesn’t seem to like it.

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“In a more perfect world there would be special laws recognizing pets as living, feeling creatures with rights to be looked after by those who best meet their needs or interests, and there would be specialized accessible courts to determine the ‘best interest of the dog,’ as there are for children in the Family Courts,” he wrote in his decision that was released on Monday.

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The testimony

Sally Kemp, the woman who claimed ownership of the dog, and Laurie Osmond, the defendant, were in a romantic relationship when they adopted Lily in 2009.

They didn’t live together and it was decided at the time that Kemp, who had two daughters, could provide a more stable home than Osmond could. But it was viewed as a joint purchase.

The pair eventually broke up in 2012 with Osmond moving into his own apartment. However, he continued to offer to take Lily for walks, establishing a level of joint custody between the two.

In 2014, Osmond took Lily for the weekend but then refused to return her.

Though that wasn’t legal, Kemp never called the police or took any action, a move that adjudicator Eric Slone says loosened her claim of ownership for the dog.

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About a year later Osmond dropped off the dog and the pattern of shared custody resumed, though Osmond said that as much as “90 per cent of [the dog’s] time” was spent with him after 2012.

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Like a childhood movie

The key moment in the case and the one that makes it sound similar to a children’s movie came when Lily seemingly made the decision for herself on where she wanted live.

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Slone even addresses the dog’s choice in his decision.

“It is telling and ironic that the immediate, and perhaps ultimate decision was made by Lily herself,” he wrote.

Osmond had returned to the Kemp household to take Lily back even though Kemp refused to allow him to.

Lily, who was outside at the time, responded to Osmond’s command to jump in the vehicle.

At that time a fight between Osmond and Kemp’s boyfriend took place, eventually requiring the police to break it up.

At the suggestion of the police, Osmond decided to leave the dog at the home but he later returned and the dog once again jumped into his vehicle.

Osmond hasn’t allowed Kemp to see Lily since.

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The decision

Slone even took Sally Kemp to task for what he deemed as the “careless” decision to leave the dog outside, unleashed so that she could simply run to the defendant.

In the end, the adjudicator sided with Osmond because he found his testimony more credible than Kemp’s.

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Slone decided that the dog had spent more time with Osmond, that he had footed many of the dog’s expenses and that the Kemp’s claim of ownership had slowly eroded over time.

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