A Pretoria couple are embroiled in a bitter legal tussle over visitation rights of their two beloved Chihuahuas, Bella and Grietjie.
The woman left the family home in Pretoria East last year and took the dogs with her. Her husband, an advocate, explained in papers before the Gauteng High Court that he dearly loved the dogs and wanted to see them.
“I regard Bella and Grietjie as my children, as we don’t have children,” he said.
But she said Bella had been a gift to her and she had bought Grietjie when she had left her husband a time before.
The parties cannot be named as they are in the process of a divorce.
The fight over the dogs began in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court, where the man obtained an order that his co-ownership of the dogs be restored so that he could spend time with them.
He proposed that Bella and Grietjie spend alternate weeks with him, but his wife refused and said she would appeal the order.
This would usually mean the order is put on ice, pending the outcome of the appeal.
But the advocate is so determined to see the dogs that he successfully applied for an order that the magistrate’s ruling of joint possession remains in place, despite the pending appeal.
The man said an appeal could take months and, in the meantime, he is being deprived of the love and affection of his pets. He said it was also unfair on the dogs, as he was sure they missed him too.
But his estranged wife refused to let him see the dogs, he said, so he had taken the matter to the High Court this week for an urgent order to hold her in contempt of court. He asked Judge John Holland-Muter for an order to commit his wife to 30 days in jail, suspended for two years, if she did not allow him access to the dogs.
The judge, however, found that the matter was not urgent and removed it from the roll. This means that the advocate will have to go the normal legal route, which can take months.
He could approach the magistrate’s court only in December as lawyers who had to assist him in launching the application did not take the matter seriously because it dealt with dogs rather than children.
The matter was struck from the roll in December, but the advocate pushed on and he eventually obtained his order of visitation rights.
He said he would be happy if the dogs could alternate between their two homes, spending every second week with him.
“Bella and Grietjie contribute to my emotional well being. This ought not to be negated as a result of their being dogs as opposed to human beings.
“The respondent (his wife) knows the love that I have for the dogs and the bond we share. The dogs are used to me and very fond of me, having been a part of our family before the respondent moved out,” he said.
He said it was cruel to deprive him of his dogs and them of his affection.
The wife claimed that when she moved out of the shared home, her estranged husband had had no objection to her taking the dogs. She had at first agreed to him spending time with the dogs every alternate Saturday or Sunday from 8am to 6pm.
She said he did fetch them once, but used the opportunity to interrogate her mother about the divorce and she ended the agreement.
The woman claimed her husband was being abusive and the dogs were a smokescreen to get access to her.