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Divorced couple’s dog is legally a family member, Colombian court says

Jader Alexis Castaño, a Colombian university rector, was left depressed after he lost his dog Simona in a divorce, often unable to stomach a meal due to his grief, according to court records. But Castaño wasn’t the only one torn up over his inability to pet and play with his “hija perruna,” or “dog child,” as he often referred to Simona.

After Castaño and his former wife Lina María Ochoa split in 2021, Castaño’s rare visits with Simona left him convinced that the pup was “emotionally affected” every time their encounters came to an end, court records state. But Castaño’s ex-wife was not willing to allow preset, guaranteed visits.

What could Castaño do to see Simona more often? He opted to take the matter to court, where judges ruled in October that the dog should be legally considered “his daughter” and treated as such in divorce proceedings — the first such ruling in Colombia.

Last year, Castaño sued his former wife, demanding scheduled visits with the pooch. Castaño alleged that Simona was part of the “family’s nucleus,” and that both he and the dog had been adversely affected following the divorce because his former wife did not grant him frequent visits, the lawsuit states.

What started as a lawsuit demanding a regular schedule of visits with Simona turned into a bigger legal question for the Colombian court: Was the dog like any other member of a family, like a toddler, whose parents shared custody after separating?

The Bogotá Superior Court ruled that Simona the dog had indeed been an official member of the “multispecies” family before the divorce tore it asunder.

That meant Castaño was entitled to scheduled visits with Simona, a living creature with feelings who also suffered after the marriage ended, the court ruled.

Before 2016, to the eyes of the court, animals were considered cosas muebles,a legal term meaning objects that humans could transport wherever they wanted. But a ruling that year decided that animals are not objects. They’re living beings with feelings.

The court also ruled in 2016 that humans must protect animals from pain and be responsible for their well-being by treating them when sick and avoiding putting them in circumstances that could cause them fear or stress. This last part, the judges evaluating Castaño’s lawsuit said, was a factor in considering how Castaño’s separation from Simona impacted the animal’s well-being.

It’s the first time a Colombian court has ruled that an animal can be considered a member of the family if it’s treated as such by its owners. But Colombia is not the only country at the cutting edge of this legal matter, according to ReVista: Harvard Review of Latin America.

“Latin American legal systems are at the forefront of considering animals as family members,” according to the online magazine. “In a global recent attitudinal change toward animals in western societies, today, many people recognize themselves as part of a multispecies family.”

In 2018, for instance, a Peruvian court ruled that Petunia, a 3-year-old pig, was a member of one family in the country’s central highlands region of Junín after the municipal government said the pig was a public health risk and ordered her family to transfer her to a farm, according to ReVista.

As for Simona, a family judge must now rule the exact visiting schedule for Castaño and the pup, “his daughter,” the lawsuit states.

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