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Tue, Feb 24, 2009
The Sunday Times
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Jamie, Glenn won't fight over their 'boy'
by Huang Huifen

Former celebrity couple Glenn Ong and Jamie Yeo, who have filed for separation, will not fight over the custody of their 'boy'.

They have agreed that whoever stays in their matrimonial home in the East Coast will keep him. In this case, it is Yeo.

Their 'boy' is actually Fudge, a seven-year-old Jack Russell terrier which they bought in 2001 when they started dating.

'Fudge is settled and used to the environment. Glenn comes over weekly to play with Fudge and get his mail,' said Yeo, 31, an ESPN Star Sports presenter.

Said Ong, 38, a deejay on radio station Class 95: 'Jamie and I had an amicable split and we are still talking.'

Like Ong and Yeo, many couples who own pets and are seeking a divorce are also settling the custody of their pets out of court.

Of the 10 lawyers whom The Sunday Times spoke to, most said they have each seen about three to four similar cases in recent years.

Many of the couples are in their 30s and often childless. The pets are usually dogs, with perhaps just two cases involving cats.

'When a couple split up, they lay all the cards on the table and see what's up for grabs,' said MrChia Boon Teck, a partner in legal firm Chia Wong.

Lawyers said their clients are pragmatic and do not want to bear the cost of bringing the pet-ownership issue to litigation.

Mr Chia said the loser may be ordered by the court to contribute towards the winner's legal costs, which may amount to an additional $2,000, on top of his own lawyer's fees.

The total legal costs may be $4,000 to $8,000 depending on the length of the court case.

Pets are treated as chattels in the eyes of the law. They are considered simply like a piece of furniture in the house. Hence, whoever bought it has more rights to retain ownership and emotions will not be considered.

'However, it is not uncommon for judges to apply a common-sensical attitude towards issues such as visitation rights,' said Mr Koh Tien Hua, a partner in Harry Elias Partnership.

Despite an amicable agreement, things may still get complicated.

John (not his real name) agreed to let his wife keep their two Dalmatians when they divorced last year. He could send her an SMS message to fix a time to visit the dogs.

However, she did not reply to his SMSes and had even gone overseas for work without his knowledge.

John has not seen his dogs for six months, and may possibly contest in court for their ownership in the next three months.

In the midst of disputes between humans, will the dogs, like children, suffer trauma and show signs of stress?

Yes, said Mr Ricky Yeo, president of the Action for Singapore Dogs Society. 'Dogs are habitual creatures and once the routine of seeing their owners is broken, some can go into depression or become restless,' he said.

He urges couples to bear the best interests of their pets in mind and let them remain in a familiar environment.

And that was exactly what Ong and Yeo did, though during the initial period of their separation, Fudge exhibited strange behaviour.

'It would make some funny noises whenever I had to leave the house,' said Ong.

But Fudge soon got over it. 'Humans and pets will get over it,' he said.

Yeo agreed. 'I used to think of him as a boy, but after the incident, I see that he is just a happy dog,' she said.

This article was first published in The Sunday Times.

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