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Unique Wisconsin Pet Custody Law Proposed by Controversial Legislator


August 2, 2007 — A Wisconsin lawmaker known for her unusual legislative suggestions is barking up the same tree again. From the woman who has proposed bills for the creation of a state ballad and the "much-needed" exemption of gold bullion from the state's sales tax, Wisconsin Representative Sherry Albers has helped pen what's believed to be the first proposed pet custody law in the United States.

After watching her husband go through complicated pet custody issues during his divorce from his ex-wife and hearing similar stories from other divorcees, Albers recognized an apparent need for a pet custody law in Wisconsin.

Albers' proposed Wisconsin pet custody law would specifically spell out how divorcing couples and the courts should address pet custody disputes. States traditionally consider pets property, and the courts usually grant custody to the spouse who can establish ownership.

Under this proposed Wisconsin pet custody law, judges would have less power and not be allowed to grant shared custody of the pet unless both sides agree to it. This proposed Wisconsin pet custody law would also provide couples with the ability to specify visitation rights and the right to move out of state with the animal.

If the splitting couple is unable to come to terms on who gets the beloved pet following their Wisconsin divorce, the judge would then step in and have several options to choose from. The judge could simply grant custody of the pet to whom he or she feels the animal will be better off with. This proposed Wisconsin pet custody law would also let the judge send the disputed pet to a nearby Humane Society location or a similar shelter.

At this point, the pet would be granted to the spouse who arrives first at the shelter. If both spouses wait too long to claim the pet, it could be put up for adoption or even euthanized, depending on the shelter's own policies.

The idea that a pet in the middle of a divorce dispute could be euthanized because of the inability of humans to come to terms has naturally caused concern for some opponents of this proposed Wisconsin pet custody law. Other opponents of this legislation have worried that it will put shelters in the middle of legal battles that should not concern them.

Others have alleged that Albers' proposed Wisconsin pet custody law is just another instance of the legislator using her power and influence behind the scenes to accomplish things that matter most in her personal life. In making this argument, these opponents have noted the complicated divorce of Nicky Symons and Steven Anders, who is now married to Albers.

When going through their divorce, the issue of what to do with the ex-couple's Labrador dog Sammi took center stage. Both Symons and Anders did not want the dog; however, their children did not want to give Sammi away. A judge later ordered the couple's children to split time with their parents following the divorce and then mandated the same thing for the dog.

Albers said that this pet custody decision proved to be a tricky one as Sammi was old and would often get sick when traveling between the residences of Symons and Anders. Sammi passed away this past February at the age of 17 (that's 119 in dog years).

Upon seeing this legislation and who proposed it, Symons laughed and was quoted as saying in a Madison.com story that this Wisconsin pet custody legislation should be called "Sammi's Law."

Albers' proposed pet custody law in Wisconsin has also drawn controversy based on her legislative history. The story detailed that Albers proposed another law in relation to the 2003 divorce of Anders and Symons.

Specifically, Albers cosponsored a bill that became a part of Wisconsin divorce law in April 2006 and essentially required a parent involved in a divorce dispute to provide the other parent with a health insurance card for all of their children. Apparently, Anders lacked a prescription drug for his son and needed one from Symons, who said she had difficulties in obtaining the card before being able to do so. If she did not get Anders the card, Symons would have been held in "contempt of the court" after her ex-husband filed a petion against her a month after this new Wisconsin divorce law took effect.

In defending the law, Albers noted how her husband Anders had his own legal representation in this case. State Representative Carol Owens, who authored what would become that 2006 Wisconsin divorce law, said that Albers came to her with the idea and that she agreed to do it because she thought it was a good idea.

However, the executive director of the government watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said in the Madison.com story that having a personal interest in legislation is a bad thing for legislators. Specifically, Mike McCabe said that such types of legislation may raise the question of whether the legislator is looking out for his or her needs or those of the public; questions which some have raised with Albers on several occasions.

As you can see, this proposed Wisconsin pet custody law has been deemed controversial for several reasons.

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