Along Comes Cruella
"I can't believe this," I exclaimed, and set down the phone.
"That was Lisa's boyfriend- some guy named Terry. He's saying that legally they own Abbie's litter, and if we don't turn over the puppies, they'll take us to court."
It was December 5, 2004. The puppies were ten days old.
A few hours later, Lisa's e-mail arrived.
"I guess she's not kidding; she says they've already hired a lawyer."
Great. We adopt a dog, we bring her home, we find out she's pregnant. Next thing you know, she delivers eleven puppies, and we're up at 3 am each night bottle-feeding them.
And now the dog's former owner pops up like Cruella DeVille and says she's taking us to court so she can get hold of the puppies.
Not on your life, Cruella. Not on your life.
We knew we'd found the right lawyer when the Golden Retriever jumped up from beside a filing cabinet and came over to sniff our trouser legs.
"Jake! Leave the people alone!" Scott Clarke ordered, without appreciable effect. "Sorry about that. I hate to leave him at home all day, so I bring him here with me."
It's all right, we assured him. We were walking in with the scent of a dozen dogs permeating every pore; Jake could hardly be blamed for taking interest.
"Now, how can I help you?"
We outlined the situation. Scott's look became more and more incredulous as I recounted the story of Abbie's surprise pregnancy, the shocking phone call and the email that followed.
"And now she's saying that she's the puppies' legal owner, and she wants them," I finished.
"What in the world gives her that idea?" he exclaimed.
"Beats me, but I don't want to take the slightest chance with the welfare of those dogs," I said. "When it comes time to place the puppies in their new homes, I don't want this hanging over their heads."
"I can't see what gives her the idea she has any claim whatsoever to those puppies. Was there any discussion of puppies in the contract?"
"There was no contract, " I told him.
"Did you at least get a bill of sale?"
"Yes- we insisted on it."
He pulled down a handful of leather-bound volumes. "There's plenty of case law," he reassured us, flipping through the pages. "The owner of the mother is the owner of any offspring."
He sketched out a plan. We had no idea what sort of action Lisa and Sandi were taking in the Ohio court system, but just maybe, we could beat them to the punch by filing our own case first.
"All we need to do is ask the court to issue a summary judgment confirming
that you are the puppies' legal owner. You'll present your side
of the case, the other party will present their side, and the judge
will make a ruling on who's correct. If the facts you've given me
are accurate, you should have nothing to worry about."
It sounded straightforward enough, but I worried. How long would this all take? In a couple of months, it would be time to send the growing puppies away with their new families. Even if we had room to house nine extra Newfoundland dogs indefinitely - and who does? - it would not be fair to the pups and their eventual adoptive families to hang onto them too long.
Scott ran his finger across a calendar. "About two months, if all goes well. Longer, if the case goes to trial."
Two months would be cutting it close.
And if things didn't go well?
I didn't allow myself to admit the possibility.
"About the fee..." I asked. Scott mentioned a figure. I blinked, but told him to go ahead. Money was of no concern; I'd get a second job if I had to.
Have Every Intention Of Getting Those Puppies"
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