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Dog claimed by rescue group ordered back to original owner

TNS Regional News • Jul 30, 2015 at 11:07 AM

Fifteen months after her champion Shetland sheepdog escaped from a friend’s yard in Columbus and was claimed by a rescue group, a Pennsylvania woman had a tearful reunion with the dog.

An order from a frustrated Franklin County Municipal Court judge made it happen this month.

“You’re going home,” said Veronica Covatch of Punxsutawney, Pa., as she hugged Piper in a Far East Side parking lot.

“I’m getting you out of Ohio, never, never to come back.”

The ownership of the dog has been at the center of a legal dispute since last July, when Covatch filed a lawsuit in Franklin County Municipal Court saying the Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue was holding Piper captive and refusing to return her. She and Michelle Wilson of Norwalk, Ohio, said in the suit that they are co-owners of the dog.

But the ruling doesn’t end the case, which has created a stir on the Internet among advocates on both sides.

Judge Michael T. Brandt returned the dog to Covatch while the matter proceeds toward a trial date, which has not been scheduled.

Though technically not over, “The case turns heavily on what (Brandt) did today,” said John Bell, the attorney for the rescue group.

Bell said he filed an appeal of the decision with the Franklin County Court of Appeals.

The sheltie rescue group and its director, Penny Sanderbeck, have argued that they lawfully obtained Piper from the Franklin County Dog Shelter after the dog was held the required three days without its owner being located. That means the rescue group is the rightful owner of the dog, Bell said.

Brandt grew increasingly impatient with that argument during a two-hour hearing on Thursday in his courtroom.

Testimony and exhibits showed that Piper was part of a litter born to another of Covatch’s dogs in November 2008, and that Covatch sold half-ownership to Wilson in January 2009. Piper, who lived with Wilson in Ohio for three years, became a champion show dog, competing around the country.

Covatch said Piper was staying with a friend in Columbus when she got loose on April 17, 2014. The dog was picked up that day by a dog warden and taken to the shelter.

Workers had a difficult time identifying the owners through a microchip implanted in the dog, in part because Piper was held over Easter weekend, making it difficult to reach the veterinarian.

Bell presented one witness, the shelter’s assistant director, and was preparing to call the shelter volunteer who turned over the dog to the rescue group when the judge said he’d heard enough.

As it became clear that Brandt would allow no further testimony and was preparing to give the dog to Covatch, Bell started to ask the judge to place a stay on his order while his client files an appeal.

“Let me tell you something,” Brandt interrupted. “These people have been without their animal for over a year. OK? So they get their dog back today.”

Covatch and Wilson embraced and cried at the announcement.

Bell said that his appeal will argue that “We weren’t even allowed to present our case. It’s an extraordinary thing when a court doesn’t allow you to present evidence in a contested hearing.”

Brandt ordered that Sanderbeck turn the dog over to the court’s deputy bailiff for a reunion that was scheduled for the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant on E. Broad Street.

Covatch was hugging her dog about five hours later and preparing for the drive back to Punxsutawney, Pa.

The case has cost her more than $100,000 in legal fees, she said, calling Piper “the most expensive pet on the East Coast.”

Covatch said she’ll never show any dogs in Ohio again.

“Ohio had dragged this case out for the last 15 months,” she said. “It’s going to keep people from coming here to show their dogs.”


By John Futty - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (TNS)

©2015 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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