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Pet Custody Discussed by Attorney Sharon Liko


Introduction to Show

Reporter: Custody battle, I guess, with an ex-girlfriend for Knuckles.

Pet Owner: Knucks is my puppy. In a lot of ways he is like my son.

Lawyer: Eighty-three percent of pet owners now call themselves their pet’s mommy or daddy.

Reporter: His ex says that Knucks was given to her as a gift and lives a happy life.

Lawyer: I would tell my future clients and everyone out there. Two words- Puppy Prenup.

Actual Show

Host: That would be a prenuppy? Something like that. This is unbelievable this guy claims he spent around sixty grand trying to get this dog from his ex. A dog that they shared when they were together; now they are apart. Unbelievable

Take a look at what he posted from Indie, um, IndieGoGo this guy is now asking for help to get his dog Knuckles back.

Pet Owner: Hi, I am asking you to help me rescue Knuckles. Knucks is my puppy. In a lot of ways he is like my son. He is absolutely the cutest dog in the whole universe. Um he has big floppy ears, he snores like an old man, his whole butt wiggles when he wags his tail. He is just so loving, so sweet and warm. He is incredibly. The thing is my ex-girlfriend stole him and moved to California.

I had to hire two private investigators to find her. I know it sounds cool to work with a PI, but it is not. It is incredibly costly. Then I went through the courts. Knucks is my dog in every way imaginable. From him being registered in my name, to paying his vet bills, playing for play group bills, and the fact that I love him and cared for him.

The problem is she has a really wealthy family supporting her. I don’t. And she has her attorneys filing frivolous motion after frivolous motion. She knows that every time my attorneys respond to it, that’s another $5,000. Every time he calls to tell me about a new motion, it’s another couple hundred dollars for a two minute phone call. She can keep doing this forever, but this will bankrupt me.

I don’t care about that. I don’t care about her. I’m not even going to say her name. I don’t want you guys to be mad at her. All I want is to bring Knuckles back home to me. He really is my son. I know that sounds crazy. I know kidnapping sounds crazy. I know dognapping sounds crazy. I know going to court for your child is crazy. I mean you puppy.  But I have raised Knuckles since he was two months old. I loved him and cared for him. I saw him go from a precautious puppy to being sort of like a cool teenager. I want to see him become an old man. Not just snore like one, but see him become an old man.

I’m going to do whatever it takes to get there. If I have to go $50, $60,000 into debt, I’m going to do it. I’m not asking for money to make up for what I already spent. I spent it happily. I’m just asking for money to continue to fight. I’m asking for money to go forward for the next two to three months in legal fees so I can finalize this and bring Knucks back.

 There are tons of perks I’m offering. I reason is a I happen to have amazing friends. Thank you guys for that. Luckily, my friends are amazingly talented. I have more art than you can imagine. All with a “Free Knucks” theme all with “Rescue Knucks” on it. Anything I don’t have, I’ll get it. I will find a way. All I want is to bring Knucks home. All I ask is that you help me rescue Knucks.

Host: Alright. He’s pulling out all the stops. You know there’s another side to the story, obviously, in a custody battle like this.This is what his ex is saying tonight:

Knuckles is incredibly healthy happy here with me. He's been with me his whole life Craig gave up his one-half ownership when he left my father's home in Massachusetts and unconditionally gifted knuckles me. He said he knew Knuckles would be happier in a suburban setting. He wants revenge and is using an innocent dog is his way of harassing me and getting attention at the same time. Seems like a lot of trouble to go to. He may appear to be, but he is now emotionally or mentally well person, I know. We were together for four years I just wanted to leave me alone. It would be cruel to Knuckles and myself to take him away from me to satisfy this man's ego.

Wow. Joining me tonight in Denver, family lawyer and criminal defense attorney, Sharon Liko; Diana Falzone, relationship expert with Hollywood Life and Military.com; and in Phoenix, great attorney former family law attorney criminal defense attorney, Dewayne Cates (DC).

Alright, let me start here Diana let me ask you first. What’s your first your impressions what do you think is really going on here? Is he in this to get Knuckles or the relationship in getting the attention his ex or is it about getting the love of man’s best friend?

Falzone: It could be all about I believe that this is more about getting revenge on his ex staying in touch with her this is the way to harass act by using I love the dog. This is very questionable behavior and I would say he does seem a little unsound here.

Host: Alright let’s get to the lawyers. DC is there a legal test custody dog? I know for children it's best
interests of the child. Right? That's what the courts determine. Is there are similar best interests the
dog test the court uses?

Cates: No. There isn’t Vinny. You know what people always want to make it about who can take better care of the dog. In this case, would the dog be happier in New York City or near the beach in California. And that’s what they're talking about-- nothing to do with ownership of the dog. Dogs are treated by the courts as property.

And so it’s who bought the dog, who adopted the dog, whose name is on the paperwork, all of that. Now I know, I believe the guy’s name is on everything. But the girlfriend is saying that he gifted it to her. So she is going to have to come up with some sort of evidence that there was this gift going on.

You know, I’ve done these types of cases before in family law. I’ve even had dog custody cases--
cases where people restraining orders against each other, had to meet in a Safeway parking lot every other week, and have a third-party transfer the dog back and forth.

Host: I know people are very passionate about their pets. Sharon, I would like to propose something.
I don’t know if any court would accept it. Put the plaintiff and defendant, the two exes, on opposite sides of the room. Put Knuckles in the middle of the room. Where ever Knuckles goes, winner takes all.

Liko: You know that’s not a bad idea. I mean it is a good solution. You know whoever feeds him the most, he’s going to. You know people feel pets are family but courts don’t. You know like the other attorney said they are viewed as property. But with that being said, if this guy is really the registered owner—he paid for him, he paid the vet bills, registered in his name then he should go to the police and file theft charges.

I had a situation a few years ago where some girlfriend stole a boyfriend’s dog and changed his identity
and took over the Canadian border. He hired the Canadian Mounties and they found him. The Police Department pressed felony charges against her, because the pet was over four hundred dollars.

Host: How do you change a pet’s ID? Well, we will talk more about this and we will take some calls and your comments on Twitter and Facebook. My question the day today is, from your perspective, how far would you go to gain custody of your pet from an ex? (877) TELL LHN.

Break

Host: My question of the day. Who gets the dog in a bitter breakup? How far would you go to gain custody of your pet from an ex? My guests are back with me. Let’s go to the phone lines. I have Tina from Florida. Good Evening Tina.

Caller #1: Hello how are you?

Host: Excellent.

Caller #1: Well, I had a similar situation about 15 years ago. An ex-boyfriend and I went to buy the dog together, but I purchased the dog. Fortunately, I registered the dog in my name. After we broke up, he came over when I wasn’t there, used a key of course, and cook the dog. But because I had the paperwork, I called the police and got the dog back. $60,000 extreme but people do consider pets their children. You know, I think they should just hire a dog whisperer and ask Knuckles who he wants to go with.

Host: We have Mary Ann from Maine.

Caller #2: Actually, mine was a cat. When we got a divorce, I put a stipulation that if my partner was unable to take care of it that I would be next in line. Because it was in his name. But I understand, they are like children to us.

Host: So Sharon Liko, should people consider this? Think about beforehand?
I mean you get the dogs together. Something romantic you do. You get the kitty. You get the little puppy together. Should they be thinking down the road at all?

Liko: Well, as a divorce lawyer, I think when you get married or form a relationship that you're going to live together you probably needed have the end in mind, because 50 percent relationships will fail. So having a puppy pre-nuptial probably is a good idea but I’ve seen people resolve these. People will have joint custody of the dog and they'll split that bill, split the food, they transition the dog. You know on weekends or I've seen dogs go back and forth with the kids. Whoever has the kids gets the dog.

Host: Well, that I understand. That makes a lot of sense to me. When there are kids in the equation, have the dog follow the kids. Uh, Dewayne. This guy said he spent 60 grand already. He has raised $3,100 with his website. How much should it cost in a battle for the dog.

Cates: Well anytime you get into litigation. One strategy is to run the other side out of money.
If she's got a wealthy family backing her and they have unlimited funds, they can make it expensive. You can file motions to punish the other side for expensive litigation. You can do that, but unfortunately when you’re in civil litigation it costs what it costs.

Host: Diana Falzone, I don’t know if you’re aware but there have been some celebrity battles over pets, as well. Britney Spears and Kevin Federline fought over custody of the dogs after Spears lost custody of the kids in 2007. PETA was urging Spears to give up custody of the dogs.

This was really interesting Jennifer Love Hewitt, according to the New York Daily News, got into a bitter custody dispute over her dog, Mona, with her ex-fiance. Newspaper reports Jennifer try changing the dog's name, so the dog wouldn’t come when were ex called the dog. I like that strategy.

Falzone I don’t like that strategy. I think it is a terrible strategy. I think there should be something called pre-puptial agreements, where you make sure you have a plan in place.With this poor guy, make a clean break. I hate to say it I know you love the dog, but may time to be a new puppy and start fresh. I think he's holding on old memories. I'm going to sound heartless might help him heal. You think it's time for him to move. I do.

Host: Here’s what Drew Barrymore. This was a bitter one too. Fought for custody of a yellow lab named Flossy with her ex-comedian, Tom Green. She won. If you recall, it was flossy’s barking that saved the couple’s lives when they’re home caught fire in 1998.
We have Jill from Kentucky. How far would you go for your dog?
Caller #2: I would go to the ends of the Earth for my baby boy. I’ve had him since he was a new born. I got him from a friend, well I know her. She’s an acquaintance. She was treating him bad. She gave him to us. I’ve taught him 51 tricks. He thinks he is human. I know you’ve heard this before. But he does. He bosses us around. I would do anything for him. I would go anywhere if someone tried to take him from me. He’s my baby boy.

Host: Thanks so much for the call. You know people feel very passionate about their pets. A pet is an important part of people’s lives. DC, Sharon, Diana appreciate your time tonight and thank you so much. Think about what's in the best interest of the puppy, put your feelings aside just a moment.