LOCKPORT – Canine custody has become the central issue in a couple's divorce proceedings.
Susan Barron filed for divorce from Paul Barthel in November 2012. The couple has been married since 2004 and got Pepper, a black lab, in 2009. A petition filed July 7 in Will County Court said Barron has "avoided settling the issue" of Pepper's custody.
"Most of the assets have been straightened out, but Pepper's my buddy. I used to walk him every day and I miss him," Barthel said.
Barron's attorney, Heather Nosko, said pets are legally viewed as property, just like inanimate objects.
"With the concerns and attachment many people feel for animals, it's surprising there hasn't been legislation to specifically address their welfare in [divorce] cases," she said.
Nosko said Pepper was a "family pet" for Barron's two daughters. Barthel is not the children's father.
Nosko said Barthel is using Pepper to keep in contact with Barron, who requested an order of protection after Barthel allegedly stole the dog earlier this year. Barthel denies harassing his estranged wife and said he notified police when he found the dog outside his former residence.
"I went by to pick up some other things and called them so it would be clear I was going to look after Pepper since [Barron] wasn't home to make sure nothing happened to him," Barthel said.
Barthel said he initially hoped the divorce would be resolved with shared custody of Pepper.
"I spent enough money fighting this to buy 50 dogs, but this is the particular dog I care about. I could lose him, but I can't just give up," Barthel said.
"These two people simply do not get along and it's unrealistic for them to share the dog," Nosko said.
Pepper is expected to be discussed along with other property at the estranged couple's court hearing next month.