By Elizabeth Cook

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — In San Francisco, dogs don’t just outnumber kids, they often are the ‘kids,’ and when couples split up, the fur often begins to fly over their pets.

Couples stay married for an average of just eight years in the United States, shorter than the lifespan of most cats and dogs.

In the past five years, divorce attorneys across the nation have seen almost a thirty-percent jump in pet disputes.  Except animals aren’t treated like kids in court – pets are property, not people, which is often surprising to their owners.

“The concept that a pet is going to be treated as a piece of furniture is stunning to them,” family law attorney Deborah Dubroff said.

For Alathea O’Dell, letting go of her beloved pet was unthinkable.

“Letting go of a house or retirement funds or money I could deal with, but letting go of my dog whom I felt I made a promise to protect and love and care for when I picked her, I couldn’t part with her.”

Brandy Kuentzel, a corporate attorney for the SFSPCA says owners should think about what’s best for their pet.

“Never use the pet as a bargaining chip.  Never use a pet as leverage against another person.”

Under California law, the only time a judge can grant custody of a pet is in the case of domestic violence.

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Elizabeth Cook