As any couple who's split up knows, custody decisions involving the kids can be angst-inducing and incredibly painful. But what if the kid in question is a cuddly, tan-and-black pug named Dexter?
It turns out that those decisions also can sting — but in Dexter's case, they've finally been resolved. A New Jersey judge ruled Monday that Eric Dare and Doreen Houseman, a couple who parted ways in 2006, must take turns caring for the dog in five-week rotations.
Houseman, who hadn't seen Dexter for two years, seven months and three weeks at the time of the ruling, welled up with tears when she heard the news.
"I'm very happy, very relieved," she said, adding that she couldn't wait to "have him in my hands again."
Dare, Houseman's ex-fiance, appeared angry and exasperated over the ruling and hinted to a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter that he might appeal the judge's decision. He said he had "a lot of reaction, but I don't know if I want it in the paper."
Not a 'custody arrangement'Superior Court Judge John Tomasello, who seemed exasperated in his own right over seeing this couple in court again and deciding a case over a dog, said the shared care-giving arrangement should continue until Dexter "goes to the Great Kennel in the Sky."
Tomasello stressed that this was not a "custody arrangement" because dogs do not merit the same consideration as children.
"He might be cute and furry, but he's still property," the judge said. "He's no more than that."
Monday's court appearance marked the fourth time Dare and Houseman had faced each other in court over the issue of who should care for 6-year-old Dexter.
The fight began after an agreement to share time with Dexter soured when Houseman started dating again, and Dare, a Williamstown, N.J., police officer, refused to let her see the dog, according to WCAU in Philadelphia.
So Houseman took him to court in what would be a years-long battle that would cost each party $20,000 in attorneys' fees.
In 2007, Judge John Tomasello ruled that Dare, 36, would get to keep the dog and would pay Houseman $1,500, the cost of the pug, to satisfy her claim. This decision stemmed from the fact that Dare purchased the dog and paid for his food and veterinary bills.
"Dogs are chairs; they're furniture; they're automobiles, they're pensions. They're not kids," Tomasello said at the time of his 2007 ruling.
Houseman, 35, filed an appeal and was victorious in March, when three appeals judges disagreed with Tomasello’s ruling. Tomasello "should not have treated Dexter like another piece of furniture" and should have considered the subjective value, the judges stated.
It was a "landmark decision" regarding pet-sharing cases, said Gina Calogero, Houseman's lawyer.
An exasperated judgeThe case went back to Tomasello, who ruled on the matter this week. The last time Tomasello saw Dare and Houseman, he instructed their attorneys to file additional briefs and share suggestions about how to best resolve the pet-care conundrum.
When he made his ruling on Monday, Tomasello said the five-week pet-sharing rotations were the best solution.
The judge also quipped that when Dexter dies, Houseman and Dare should amicably split the ashes and not turn the issue into a court battle.
"Hopefully I won't be here at that point," he said right before leaving the bench with his robe flying.
The Philadelphia Inquirer and WCAU in Philadelphia contributed to this report.