6:36 p.m. CDT, July 16, 2014
A Carol Stream man upset that his estranged wife has custody of their dog, Pepper, asked a Will County judge today to let an independent arbitrator help decide who keeps the 5-year-old black Labrador retriever known for snoring and hogging the bed.
“Your pet has a heart…This is a living thing we’re talking about,” said Paul Barthel, 50.
Judge Dinah Archambeault declined to hear Barthel’s pleas while an order of protection against him from his wife remains in effect. But legal experts say he joins a growing number of pet owners frustrated that courts in Illinois — and across the country — view pets as property in break-ups.
“The court recognizes your pet as, like, a couch,” said Aleksandra Nejman, president of Royale Litigation, which works with clients including Barthel across the Chicago area to settle such disputes.
Since the Palatine-based company opened in 2005, pet custody cases have increased 60 percent as clients hire Nejman to evaluate their situations and make recommendations in their pets’ best interest, she said.
Similarly, more than 25 percent of respondents to a February survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, located in Chicago, said they’ve seen an increase in pets mentioned in cases in the last five years.
Barthel said he and his wife, Susan Barron, picked Pepper together in 2005 from a litter of puppies. For years, Barthel enjoyed regular walks with Pepper at a forest preserve near the couple’s Lockport home. He took him on business trips and encouraged the pooch to sleep with them in bed, he said.
The marriage soured, due to what Barthel cites as stress from a failed business and related financial troubles. When he moved out two years ago, he said he assumed he and his wife would work out a visitation agreement for Pepper.
However, Barron’s attorney said her client filed an order for protection against Barthel, alleging that he had a history of harassment against her. Barron contends that she is the proper person to care for Pepper, that subjecting the dog to multiple homes would not be in its best interest and that Barthel is using the dog as a way to maintain contact, said the attorney, Heather Nosko.
“This is not about the dog,” Susan Barron said. “He just keeps going out of his way to file orders and motions to prolong the pain and suffering of this divorce.”
At the couple’s divorce trial, scheduled for Aug. 7, a judge will decide the dog’s fate along with a list of other assets, including a time share, golf clubs and kitchen appliances.