By Elaine Viets
What’s the deal with pet custody?
It’s the new legal gravy train.
Pet custody is a major part of Catnapped!, my new Dead-End Job mystery.
Helen Hawthorne and Phil Sagemont, husband-and-wife private eyes, are the in-house investigators for lawyer Nancie Hayes.
She gives them a wake-up call on the subject at five a.m. when Nancie says, "It’s a custody case. We think the husband’s violated the visitation agreement. We need you to get her back."
"How old is the kid?" Phil said.
"It’s not a kid; it’s a kitten," Nancie said. "Four months old."
"A kitten!" Phil said. "Call Animal Rescue."
"This isn’t any ordinary cat," Nancie said. "It’s a pedigreed Chartreux, a show cat owned by Trish Barrymore."
Trish is the socialite married to Smart Mort Barrymore.
"Trish and Mort are in the middle of a bitter divorce," Nancie said. "They’re fighting over everything: Who gets the two mansions, the Mercedes and the Ferrari, even the antique cigar case. The only thing they’ve agreed on is the shared custody of their cat, January’s Jubilee Justine."
"Why did they agree on custody of the cat, if they fight about everything else?" Helen asked.
"They care about Justine’s welfare," Nancie said. "Pet custody is tricky. The court regards pets as property. Some judges won’t order visitation for the other pet parent. Get the wrong judge, and it’s like asking if you can visit your ex-wife’s couch."
Helen and Phil met Trish less than an hour later at Nancie’s office. Pale blond Trish looked like she was mourning her potential loss in a black lace dress that cost as much as a summer vacation.
"Custody cases are always difficult," Nancie said. "But despite your differences, you and Mort worked out an agreement for Justine."
"We did it for the emotional well-being of our child," Trish said. "Justine has a brilliant future as a show cat. She’s a pedigreed Chartreux. They’re known for their smoky gray fur and copper eyes. We explained that Mommy and Daddy still love her, they just can’t live together anymore. She seems to be coping well.
"We know we’re not the only couple in this situation," Trish said. "Britney Spears and K-Fed and Jennifer Love Hewitt and Ross McCall fought over their fur babies."
"So did another Barrymore," Helen said. "I read that Drew Barrymore and Tom Green had a custody dispute over their Labrador."
"Those Barrymores are no relation. They’re actors." Trish spit out the word.
"I guess if you don’t have children, you have to fight about the pets," Phil said.
"Tell that to Jon and Kate Gosselin," Nancie said. "The reality show stars had eight kids and still fought over their dogs."
"Please, please bring my baby home," Trish said.
"Is this case for real?" Phil asked after the weeping Trish left
"Very real," Nancie said. "If you think Trish and Mort are hard to take, you won’t believe the Laniers of Tennessee. When they split, the wife said she deserved custody of the dog because she kept it away from ill-bred bitches – her words – and made sure the dog went to a weekly ladies’ Bible class."
"Was it a lady dog?" Phil asked.
"I have no idea," Nancie said, sharply. "Mrs. Lanier wouldn’t let anyone drink around the dog. Mister Lanier said he deserved custody because he taught the dog how to ride on the back of his motorcycle and never drank beer around him. The court gave the couple joint custody. Each spouse got the dog six months at a time."
"I would have bought the dog a beer and given him to someone who wasn’t so crazy," Phil said.
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