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Dog Tales

Always get the name of the dog.

That’s a maxim straight out of Journalism 101 – it’s a way of showing that as a reporter, you’re paying attention to details and thinking of your audience. If there is a dog in a story, your readers will view the pooch as a character worthy of a name.

Case in point: This winter Sen. Ted Cruz and his family went to Cancun in the middle of a record deep freeze in Texas. A reporter from New York Magazine went to the Cruz home in Houston while they were gone. He snapped a picture of a white poodle forlornly looking out the front door.

The reporter chatted up a security guy who was taking care of the dog. The poodle’s name? “Snowflake.” That detail gives the story some sweet irony.

Judges often adhere to the name-the-dog rule when writing legal opinions.

In cases involving a policeman’s best friend – a drug dog – watch whether the dog is named or not.

When a judge includes a drug dog’s moniker, it’s usually a dog whistle that the defendant is toast.

In those cases, you’ll meet members of the K-9 Corps with names such as Ringo and Xanto and Sara and Sam, to identify a few from real cases. You’ll learn about the valuable public service they performed. You’ll hear how they foiled perps who tried to throw them off scent by packing drugs in laundry detergent or ground coffee.

Then there are cases that would prompt the subject dog to whimper and skulk away, anonymously, tail tucked between legs.

A Virginia Beach cop is facing a civil lawsuit for allowing his four-legged police partner to bite an unconscious man in a car. In a 23-page opinion allowing the claim, the judge never names the dog once, making reference only to “the dog” or “the canine.”

The dog’s name, one of the lawyers in the case told us, was “Bear.” Hmm. Being bitten by Bear does sound pretty serious.

Dogs show up in family law cases, too – file these decisions under “domesticated animal relations.”

Under Virginia law, dogs are personal property, but that hasn’t stopped some divorce lawyers from pursuing “dog visitation” or “dog custody.”

The 2011 decision in Whitmore v. Whitmore may be the closest the Virginia Court of Appeals ever has come to a dog custody case. The divorce judge, in splitting up the couple’s property, gave the family dog, a Welsh Corgi, to the wife. The trial judge gave the husband $750, the amount they paid for the dog.

The appeals court’s opinion easily could have substituted the word “child” for “dog” for the way it refers to the animal. The parties discussed with whom the dog would live. Both parties “contributed to the care, training and maintenance of the dog.” The wife engaged doggy day care when she traveled, hiring a service to walk and care for the pooch. She provided the Corgi “a stable and caring environment.”

Custody decisions involving children often are made with “the best interests of the child” in mind, per the Virginia Code. The husband in Whitmore actually argued the trial judge failed “to consider the best interests of dog” in his decision.

The husband was just howling at the moon. The wife got the dog and the husband got the 750 bucks.

Curiously, perhaps to highlight the property angle, the appeals court never gave the Corgi’s name or gender in the opinion, only the breed.

Hat tip to Northern Virginia lawyer Heidi Meinzer, who wrote about the Whitmore case in her “Companion Animal Law Blog.”

Meinzer did it right and got the goods on the Corgi: Her name was Noel.