Ex couple’s court fight for pug may change laws

Three years ago, Doreen Houseman and her fiancé, Eric Dare, broke up. Though they’ve settled many issues from their life together, a big question remains: Who gets their pug, Dexter?

This question may be changing New Jersey law.

On Wednesday, the former couple faced each other in court for the third time, both hoping to get permanent custody of the now 6-year-old pug.

The fight began after an agreement to share custody of 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. This decision may have come from the fact that Dare purchased the dog, paid the veterinary bills and was in possession of Dexter, WCAU reported.

"Dogs are chairs; they're furniture; they're automobiles, they're pensions. They're not kids," Tomasello said.

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 custody cases, said Gina Calogero, Houseman's lawyer.

The case went back to Tomasello.

Both parties delivered their testimony before Tomasello on Wednesday. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the judge appeared annoyed at times, rolling his eyes and cutting short answers.

After hearing from the former couple, Tomasello ruled that Dexter was joint property because the couple had lived together and cared for him together, according to the Inquirer. But he did not decide the big issue — who would get Dexter.

The judge asked attorneys for both to file additional briefs and said he wanted to hear ideas on who should get the pug, the Inquirer reported.

"You both love the dog enough, and I look forward to hearing" suggestions, the judge said.

The Philadelphia Inquirer and WCAU in Philadelphia contributed to this report.