When Ch. Legacies Pipe Dream (Piper) escaped from the home of her caretakers on April 17, 2014, no one realized what would follow over one lost pup.
Piper was turned into the Franklin County Animal Shelter on April 17th and scanned for identification. The shelter found her microchip, however, when the Veterinarian’s Office where the chip was implanted was contacted (on April 18th), the shelter was advised that the records existed but would need to be retrieved for the five year old champion. The Veterinarian’s office said they would call as soon as they had the records.
This was Easter Weekend. On Sunday, April 20th, the shelter records indicate that Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue was contacted and advised of a sheltie being held. Piper’s status was changed to “Awaiting Rescue”.
On Monday morning at 11:01 am (without contacting the Veterinarian’s office again), the notation in Piper’s file simply said, “NO RESPONSE-CANT DO ANYMORE” with the initials “sg” noted.
By 3:39pm, the shelter notation states that a man claiming to be her owner called and was told to come in and make a request for public records.
Piper was gone.
What Happened Next
Piper was transferred to Penny Sanderbeck, director of Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue, Inc. (COSR) as a “rescue”. Piper’s Owner, Veronica Covatch who was at the Sheltie Nationals over the Easter Weekend, returned to find her dog, who had been staying with caretakers, was missing. When she called the shelter, and was informed on April 22nd that Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue had taken Piper, she called Sanderbeck and left a message identifying herself as the owner. No one returned her call. What transpired next is a bizarre, convoluted quest to recover Piper and one that is not yet resolved.
After Covatch contacted Sanderbeck on April 22nd through facebook, emails and attempted phone calls, she was asked to wait for Sanderbeck to sort through who really owned this Champion Show Dog. Sanderbeck claimed to have multiple calls claiming ownership, however, those calls were from individuals calling to confirm that the dog actually belonged to Covatch.
On April 23rd, email exchanges between someone apparently speaking for Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue (COSR) asked for proof of ownership. Covatch sent documentation and offered to pay for a DNA test on Piper. Covatch set up an online petition requesting help in asking Sanderbeck/Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue to return her dog.
As more people began posting on the Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue Facebook page that Piper should be returned to her owner, their posts were deleted and Sanderbeck/COSR put out a reply stating that she had determined that what was in the best interest of Piper.
Sanderbeck’s statement on the removed COSR facebook page on April 27th:
“I sat quietly and watched as these behaviors, harassment and threats continued to escalate. I have no reason to defend a thing. It quickly became apparent that the best place for any dog…whether the one in question was indeed the one they wanted or not…was to stay right where it was. Here this dog will be adopted into a loving, safe, calm environment permanently and not into three homes in one year.”
Internet Explodes over one Lost Dog!
On Facebook, the Bring Piper Home Page opened where the discussion and debate continued. The National Shetland Sheepdog Rescue (a network of Rescues affiliated with the ASSA) began getting worried queries over what was happening online.
On April 26th, covatch received a private message on facebook from Sanderbeck stating that Covatch has crossed the line and she (Sanderbeck) was done.
On April 27th, the NSRN (National Sheltie Rescue Network) asked Jim Melton (a full member of ASSA) to become involved in an attempt to mediate this exploding dispute as rescues and breeders and dog owners were becoming polarized.
Melton, in a statement for this interview, explained his participation in this way:
“My goal from the very beginning has always been to find a resolution that did the least damage and provided the most benefit to all five parties: ASSA, NSRN, Penny Sanderbeck/COSR, Veronica Covatch and, most of all, Piper!”
Facebook and the internet erupted into a fierce debate over the dispute, with breeders, dog owners and rescues polarized. An article, “Ever had a pup stolen? lost? BEWARE of “rescue” groups!” (posted to Dailykos on Apr. 27th) generated strong reactions over COSR not returning Piper that extended far beyond Columbus, Ohio. The interest spread nationwide.
On April 27th, Melton, acting by request of the NSRN, contacted Sanderbeck to attempt to bring all parties to a resolution in the dispute, however, Sanderbeck responded, “I’m too busy, I’ll get back to you.”
Sanderbeck sent a message to the NSRN saying there was this “thing” going on but she didn’t have time to talk about it right now but in a couple of days she would tell all. She never followed up.
On April 28th, Melton received an email from Sanderbeck at approx. 6:30 mountain time informing him her house had allegedly been broken into. Melton immediately called her and asked if she was all right. He also specifically asked her if Piper was there and alright. she did not answer his question regarding Piper’s whereabouts.
Sanderbeck stated she was “hurt” by the negative comments made about her on the internet.
During this conversation, Sanderbeck told Melton that she was going to “destroy Piper’s paperwork and make her disappear out of state. Melton believed he had talked her out of that by offering to “make the problem go away”. He offered three things in his solution:
1. COSR would transfer Piper to the care of Sheltie Rescue of Utah (through a local rescue contact approved by Melton and the NSRN).
2. NSRN would pay for a security system to be installed at her house.
3. NSRN would reimburse all expenses that COSR had incurred in this adoption.
Melton was looking for a win/win situation for all parties – Piper would go to her co-owner for a period to be determined, then that co-owner could return Piper to Covatch, if she chose to do so.
That was the last conversation Melton had with Sanderbeck. He was contacted by her attorney, John Bell, who said all future communication must go through him.
On April 29th, COSR’s attorney informed Melton that for any negotiations to continue, Attorney Bell also demanded that all negative statements on the internet be removed prior to any further discussions. Covatch asked the people who put up the Bring Piper Home page to remove it. Covatch also removed her own petition. When Melton informed the attorney the sites were removed, Bell then pointed to the article on Dailykos.
On april 29th, COSR took down their facebook page and website and Sanderbeck’s personal facebook page was made private.
Melton must solve the alleged break-in at Sanderbeck’s house. Until the suspects either “turned themselves in” or were identified”, there would be no discussion of Piper’s return. The attorney also informed Melton that Covatch and/or her supporters were being accused of the break-in.
The article on Dailykos was unpublished on April 30th with the caveat (by the author) that should negotiations fail, the article would be restored in full.
Melton informed Attorney Bell that the articles were down. The COSR demands changed once again.
This time, Bell said that Piper would not be returned until Donations resumed to COSR and that Sanderbeck received an apology and that Covatch admitted that COSR was the legal owner of Piper.
Bell then made the impossible demand that Melton and/or Covatch “solve” the alleged crime before negotiations could even be undertaken. Bell stated that he had “proof” that Covatch was either the perpetrator of the “alleged” crime or her supporters were (alleging that “two women in a grey van” were the suspects).
Melton realized that Sanderbeck/COSR and Bell were not negotiating in good faith. He set a deadline of May 7th as the final day to resolve the dispute before withdrawing.
During the 15 days Melton attempted to find a resolution to this dispute, Covatch was readily available and cooperated fully with Melton via email, facebook and by phone. Sanderbeck never responded after the second conversation where she claimed an alleged break-in and said she was going to destroy paperwork and make Piper disappear. From that point forward, Melton was instructed to talk only to her attorney.
In the final week of negotiations, Bell never moved from his position except to add additional requirements as each prior one was met. Bell’s one consistent demand was that until the alleged “crime” was solved and while the investigation was “active” Piper would not be returned.
Instead, Bell offered a counter proposal that Piper would be placed ONLY by COSR and that “when the time was right”, Sanderbeck would take three people she named and an Indiana Rescue group to that home (provided the home remained anonymous) to see that Piper was being well cared for. Bell stated that no other Rescue group would be allowed to place Piper as the group might “place her in the hands of a burglar”.
Finally, on May 7th, Bell implied that negotiations could not be be successful because he claimed (again) there was a “direct connection” between the alleged burglary and the furor over this dog”
At midnight on May 7, 2014, Melton and the NSRN ended their participation and withdrew from mediation.
On May 8th, Melton issued the following statement:
Melton felt that neither Sanderbeck nor her attorney ever negotiated in good faith. As each demand was met, another was made, including the impossible demand that an alleged “crime” be solved prior before they would even begin to negotiate.
On May 8th, the National Sheltie Rescue Network agreed with Melton’s assessment that Sanderbeck/COSR was not acting according to the standards of National Shetland Sheepdog Network. As a result of that belief, Sanderbeck and Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue, Inc., were immediately removed from the Network and, subsequently, from the American Shetland Sheepdog Association’s list of approved rescues (enabling them to receive emergency funding and support where needed).
On May 9th, the Dailykos article was restored in full.
The Alleged Break-In
In email exchanges requesting statements from Bell that occurred during the negotiations, Bell made repeated allusions to a “felonies” being committed. He claimed that until alleged “crimes” were solved, the issue of Piper would not be considered. Exactly what alleged felonies took place.
On April 28th, a Columbus Police Officer was dispatched to a residence on Majestic Place in Columbus, Ohio. At 6:00pm, that office took a report of an alleged burglary at the residence of Sanderbeck (also the place of operation of Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue, Inc.).
On May 10th, the COSR webpage reappeared with a “public statement issued on their behalf by Attorney Bell.
On May 13, when Bell was again asked if Proof of ownership had been submitted to Sanderbeck/COSR by Covatch (or anyone else), the requirements shifted once again. he responded,
“Please let me emphasize that while we could not sanction the transfer of this (nor any) COSR dog to anyone who participated in the [alleged] burglary or [alleged] stalking, no other ‘final’ decision has been made at this point. Thank-you for your messages.”
In a follow-up to Bell’s statement, he was asked had he received any documentation whether he had seen the documentation provided and shown on the removed COSR webpage prior to the publication of the public statement.
Bell responded on May 16th as follows:
[regarding prior documentation] “It is my understanding that some documentation was provided to COSR before my involvement, but I do not think I have all of that unless it was contained in an e-mail that got forwarded to me.”
When asked if he had a copy, he responded, “No, although I am requesting that all such information now be sent to my office so that I can be certain that I have all of it.”
Bell was asked about his statement that there would be no “final decision” regarding Piper until the issue of the alleged break-in and alleged stalking were resolved. Bell replied on May 16th, saying, “I am not sure how I can be any more clear. At the very least, we need for the Police to finish their investigation into the burglary.”
Bell further replied regarding the alleged break-in as follows, “It occurred April 28, 2014, and was immediately reported to the Columbus Police Department. Their Address is 120 Marconi Boulevard, Columbus Ohio, 43215. A copy of their report is attached to this message, but that report was not available, even to us until May 7.
When Bell was asked about the allegations of stalking (on May 13th) and when that occurred, he replied in a May 16th email , “I know only that there were two women in a grey mini-van stalking Ms. Sanderbeck at and near her home, within a day or so of the burglary, and I think, before the burglary.”
Regarding the May 13th query as to why is there no mention of the alleged stalking in the Police report and why no mention of anything other than generic “paperwork” as having been taken, Bell had no response.
However, an addendum to the original police report (date stamped May 13th) was filed by Sanderbeck stating that the only papers stolen were the shelter release … (referred to by the Franklin County Animal Shelter as Sherry).
The Franklin County Animal Shelter records on Piper (a.k.a., Sherry) are public records readily available from the Franklin County Animal Shelter upon request. Covatch requested and received a copy of those papers on April 26.
The addendum of May 13 to the CPD report appears somewhat redundant, especially as those papers were readily available on request at the shelter. and they had been widely disseminated on the web, including COSR’s own facebook page prior to it’s being taken down. Still, Sanderbeck/COSR’s attorney has made solving an alleged break-in to steal public papers widely disseminated a condition of Piper’s return. It makes little sense. Attorney Bell has claimed that as long as there is an “active” investigation, Piper will not be returned.
On August 15th, the Columbus Police Department, however, has confirmed that this case is listed as “inactive” due to Sanderbeck not cooperating with the investigating detectives. When Sanderbeck was asked to provide the witness she claimed saw the supposed suspects and to provide descriptions (other than simply accusing Covatch and her supporters), she stopped responding. There no longer IS an “on-going” investigation into an allegation of any break-in.
A note of interest: while Sanderbeck and her attorney have claimed Veronica Covatch and/or her supporters were involved in that “alleged” burglary, on April 28th, Covatch was at home in Pennsylvania – six hours away from Columbus, Ohio.
The stalemate has now moved into the Theatre of the Absurd. For Covatch to recover her own dog, she and her supporters and attorneys must provide proof of a burglary that Sanderbeck, herself, has been unwilling to do. Sadly, a little dog named Piper remains caught in this twisted web. The question that still remains unanswered is what will it take to finally bring Piper home?