Keith G. Langer, Esq. Wrentham, MA
Practitioners of animal law have likely received the call from a frantic pet owner, upset over not just the departure of a significant other, but far more by the fact the departed also took their pet. This is often an issue on legal assistance sites, such as Avvo, as well. The question is always, "How do I get my pet back?"
Pets are still, in the eyes of the law, mere property. While some states are moving to recognize the increased emotional importance of companion animals, particularly if that animal is injured or killed, Rhode Island still treats animals as chattel property. This determines the remedy available when that animal is taken.
If the couple was married, the matter would be decided as part of the separation agreement. If the animal were particularly valuable, it would properly be listed as an asset on the DR-6 Financial Statement. While the issues that affect all property in a divorce, whether it was a pre-marital asset, a gift, etc., come into play with pets, the pet's ownership can also be allocated by agreement of the court with those other assets.
For non-married couples, there is no such recourse. The dissolution of those relationships, having no formal status, has no formal allocation of the couple's assets.
The first issue is usually locating the pet in question. That itself may be problematic; the departed partner's location may not be known, and/or they may have hidden the animal. In such cases, an online database search, or even a private investigator may be required to even locate the party and the pet.
If found, a criminal complaint will almost always be rejected because of the domestic relationship of the parties. Where there is a remotely colorable claim of ownership by the other party, the matter will be declared civil in nature, and the police will not act.
An action for damages may be brought against the other party, if and when located, but the people seeking assistance want their pet back, not money. Therefore...