Your Dog is Missing!
Someone leaves the gate open or the fence has blown down. Your dog gets frightened and bolts from a showground – you are involved in an auto accident. You hear those dreaded words telling you that your dog is missing! This is your beloved pet, not just your prized showdog. You love this dog. You’ve groomed this beautiful creature into the gorgeous representative of the breed, campaigned with her across the country. Your dog is recognized as one of the best, a CHAMPION among champions – yet, through a slip of fate, your dog is gone.
What next? How do you recover your beloved pet and beautiful champion?
The Tale of Two Shelties
On April 17, 2014, two separate Champion Show Dogs were lost. In Franklin County, Missouri, a Champion Sheltie named “Drake” bolted from his enclosure at the Sheltie Nationals Dog Show. In Franklin County, Ohio, “Piper” (Ch. Legacies Pipe Dream) escaped from an open gate in the backyard of her caretaker. Both owners faced the frightening loss of their beloved Shelties but these stories have two very different endings.
When Drake bolted from the fairgrounds at the Sheltie Nationals near Gray Summit, MO, everyone came together to track him. What resulted was a two week search that covered 21 miles, legions of volunteers, trackers and the media until Drake was found and reunited with his grateful owner.
The search for him as he disappeared into the woods took convoluted turns. He headed east as public sightings helped track his movements. Perhaps the most frustrating of all was a picture of Drake sleeping on someone’s patio during that search. He ran away before he could be captured. Finally, on the 13th day, Stacy Ray-Dames, a vet tech on her way to work spotted him in the median of the highway and pulled over. She caught him and took him directly to the veterinarian office where she worked. He was covered in ticks and burrs and had a fever of 105, but he survived to go home to the family who loves him. And the owners cheered! The volunteers and trackers cheered! The media and social networks cheered – all who had watched, hoped, waited, prayed for this dog’s safe return … cheered.
455 miles away, there was and is only silence – and anger.
On April 17th (the same day Drake bolted), Piper also bolted from the fenced back yard where she was staying with a family taking care of her while her owner, ironically, was also at the Sheltie Nationals in Missouri. What a difference six hours can make between great happiness for one owner and great heartache for the other.
On April 17, Piper was picked up quickly just blocks away from that open gate in Franklin County, Ohio. Veronica Covatch left Piper with caretakers as she showed her younger shelties at the same fairgrounds where Drake made his escape. While Piper’s caretakers were frantically searching for her. Piper was being processed into the shelter shortly after 1:39 pm.
On April 18, the Franklin County Animal Shelter (Ohio) scanned Piper and found her microchip at 12:51:53 pm. The shelter contacted the chip manufacturer and was given the name of the veterinarian who implanted the chip. When the shelter called the veterinarian’s office that afternoon (according to the notes on the shelter forms), the office told the shelter they would retrieve the owner information and call them back. This was Friday afternoon – Good Friday, but not so good for Piper.
On Easter Sunday, people united to search for Drake in Missouri, while the Franklin County Animal Shelter in Ohio entered a note in Piper’s file at 1:46:49 pm, a note saying “OH Sheltie contacted, if unclaimed please change status to ‘Awaiting Rescue. KM.'” At 4:15:43 pm the shelter entered a note stating “Holding, waiting on call back from facility where chip was implanted (ljc 4/20/14).”
On Monday, April 21, Shelter records recorded at 11:01:42 am state: “NO RESPONSE-CANT DO ANYMORE — SG.” Monday, when the caretakers went to the shelter, after wrongly assuming the shelter would be closed over Easter, Piper was no longer there. Piper had been transferred to Penny Sanderbeck/COSR.
Piper had been turned over to Penny Sanderbeck, director of Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue. The Shelter release form also shows that Piper’s microchip number and the contact for that chip are on the forms given to Sanderbeck. No further attempts were made by either the Shelter OR Sanderbeck to follow up and locate Piper’s owner(s).
When Covatch returned on Tuesday, April 22 and was told Piper was missing, she immediately contacted the Franklin County Animal Shelter where it was confirmed again that Piper had already been turned over to Penny Sanderbeck (COSR).
Here’s Where Things Get Complicated!
What has happened after Covatch contacted Sanderbeck is enough to rattle the nerves of every dog owner.
Sanderbeck has steadfastly refused to return Piper for over three months. At first, Sanderbeck asked for more time to determine the “true” owner. Then Sanderbeck said she had personal issues and couldn’t deal with verifying Covatch as the owner at that time. Sanderbeck asked for proof of ownership. Then she asked for MORE proof. Covatch sent her AKC registration, the microchip verification of her and her co-owner as legal owners among multiple other documents.
Sanderbeck offered more excuses why she could not return Piper to her owner. None of them made sense and none them were a logical explanation for the delay. In frustration, after waiting almost two weeks (the time it took Drake to come home), Covatch posted an online petition to ask for support to bring Piper home.
News of Piper not being promptly returned to Covatch hit social media. The posting drew an immediate outcry from pet owners around the country. Sanderbeck posted multiple conflicting justifications for not returning Piper to Covatch on the COSR facebook page. She also posted a statement that she was not going to return Piper due to “internet bullying”.
Sanderbeck posted she had now determined (without ever speaking to Covatch or acknowledging the multiple documents provided) that Piper belonged to COSR and she had determined that Piper’s best interests would be served by being adopted by strangers. The COSR facebook page and website along with all comments were then taken down from the internet. What was Sanderbeck’s reasoning? Sanderbeck stated that because Covatch had not filed her name with the Home-Again registry, the microchip identification from the veterinarian who implanted it was insufficient proof.
This arbitrary decision has inflamed the social network dog community. That decision has frightened dog owners who worry chips may not read when scanned, or a different make of scanner may list the chip as “unregistered” (a common scan error) OR owners who have paid the service registry fee yearly to list their information would be ignored. Sanderbeck appears to be basing her argument on a technicality – if a microchip is not filed with the registry, it must not be “registered. This faulty and dangerous reasoning threatens every owner who assumes that the microchip is a “guarantee” their pet will be returned if found.
In late April, the ASSA (American Shetland Sheepdog Association) got involved in an attempt to resolve what seemed a strange stance take by COSR. The actions of Sanderbeck/COSR were damaging other rescue groups as outrage grew over Piper and donors threatened to withhold support for all. When Sanderbeck demanded all negative comments be removed from the internet before she would even discuss returning Piper, pages were taken down. Bloggers removed web pages critical of Sanderbeck to aid Covatch in regaining her dog. (Some were reinstated, however, when the negotiations failed.)
As each condition was met, new and more bizarre ones were made. Sanderbeck claimed a break-in had occurred at her house and that was related to Piper. In an attempt to connect Covatch to the alleged break-in, she demanded that Covatch solve that “crime” before she would return Piper. After nearly two weeks of trying to find a workable solution to this dispute, on May 8th, the negotiations ended with no success and Covatch was no closer to regaining her Champion girl.
On May 11, the COSR website reappeared containing a Public Statement from COSR attorney, John A. Bell. The impossible demands made during the ASSA negotiations were once again listed as conditions of Piper’s return. The letter from Mr. Bell also claimed that Piper is still in Ohio and has not been placed nor would she be until proof of ownership was submitted and the issue is resolved. Covatch sent the AKC registration papers, veterinarian confirmation of the microchip implanted confirming the owner names, as well as with multiple other items showing that Piper belonged to Covatch. Covatch also offered to pay to have Piper DNA tested as the DNA of both her Sire and Dam (still owned by Covatch) are registered with the AKC. THIS time, Covatch sent the paperwork to COSR’s attorney through her own attorney. Piper was not returned.
The Battle for the Show Dog
What originally appeared to be a wonderful rescue story of a lost sheltie turned into a heated battle between breeders, dog owners and rescue groups. The stubborn refusal of Sanderbeck/COSR to return Piper to her owner has polarized all sides of the issue.
What is the real reason that Piper has not been returned? Is it her value as Champion Show Dog? That value is without question. That she would be highly prized by any person “adopting” her is also without question? Rescued dogs often come with medical costs and behavioral problems. A Champion Show Dog such as Piper comes with no overhead and would be highly sought after by sheltie lovers looking to “rescue” a dog in need, especially a highly trained, well bred and healthy one.
Are not breed specific rescues there to help the dogs in need? The breed specific rescues know of the peculiarities of their breed and can guide future owners on how to work with those peculiarities to give a second chance to dogs in trouble. The problem here is that this particular dog is not “in need”. Piper already has a loving home and an owner who wants her back.
The Emotional Issue
Every dog owner knows that a dog can escape and be lost or stolen, even with the best precautions taken.
In November of 2012, Leslie and Michael Fassio were returning from the Australian Shepherd Nationals when they had an accident near Phoenix, AZ. Two of their dogs, Eve and Tacoda, ran from the accident scene into the desert and were missing for a week. Their plight was covered by multiple media sources and they were finally found with the help of volunteers and trackers.
It can happen to any of us. Not all dogs lost are purebred or show dogs – but ALL dogs lost are family! Find ILY on facebook has remained active to help other lost dogs after Rose Sharman ILY (I Love You) ran from the scene of her accident, one that left Rose severely injured and killed her beloved dog, Heffie. That rescue took over a month. Rose and ILY’s story made National News when they were reunited.
The great role of those rescue organizations that help reunite lost dogs with their owners is not in question. Indeed, many rescues were formed after helping with such happy occasions, including Central Ohio Sheltie Organization. Sanderbeck has stated that she founded COSR after helping search for Knight, a sheltie lost by a breeder . Knight was recovered in the fall of 2000. That reunion was what sparked Sanderbeck to help other families recover their own dogs by starting the Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue.
However, a lost dog where the owner is searching for that pet does not need “rescuing” – that dog needs help to get home. That dog needs a temporary safe haven until reunited with the owner. The dog does not need to be kept from the family that owns and loves that dog. What has happened when rescue becomes the enemy of both the dog and owner? Why are there now such disconnects between breeders, owners and rescue organizations?
Rescues supporting Sanderbeck now state they will never contact a breeder again if a breeder’s dog comes into their hands. Supporters of Covatch say they will never contribute to any Rescue Organization again because of the actions by COSR against it’s own mission statement.
What now compounds Piper’s situation is how people are becoming polarized along ideological lines. This has become more than just one dog – this has become a war zone!
The LEGAL issue – Piper’s Case moves to the Courtroom
Some states directly address conversion of property in clear and concise language. Wisconsin, North Carolina, New York and California have very specific language addressing the incorrect assumption of “finders keepers” with animals. Not returning an identified animal, even after an extended period of time is considered felony theft. Negligence in locating a found animal does not relieve the finder of responsibility nor does the animal simply become theirs by manner of possession.. Simply put, holding an animal that is found does not automatically convert ownership of that animal to the one with current possession because the possessor feeds or cares for the animal. Finders Keepers does not apply over lost property, including dogs. In all states and on federal levels, statutes protect property owners as dogs are considered “property” in the eyes of the law. This is where the attorneys begin the battle over Piper.
After multiple attempts at resolving this issue between the parties failed, the Law Offices of Lloyd Cohen representing Veronica Covatch issued the following statement in a statement sent out Thursday, July 30th.
Rescue Holds Pup Hostage
A companion animal is being held hostage. Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue and its director
Penny Sanderbeck refuses to return lost dog to rightful owner! On July 28, 2014 Veronica
Covatch filed a Complaint for Replevin and Conversion action in the Franklin County Municipal Court, in Columbus Ohio, against COSR seeking the return of her beloved dog known as Piper. Case Number 2014-CVF-024571. Even though the rescue had claimed that part of its mission is to reunite dogs with their owners and even though many documents, photos, and microchip identification has been supplied to COSR, legal action was filed after the rescue rejected numerous pleas to reunite Piper with her rightful owner. Owner, Vernoica Covatch and her supporters believe that the COSR refusal is due to the fact that Piper is not only a healthy loved companion but also a valuable AKC champion show dog. They feel that the director’s own interest may have something to do with the Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue refusing to reunite Veronica with her beloved companion. She hopes that the court filings will Bring Piper Home.
Cohen Law Offices
Lloyd D. Cohen
Attorney at Law
824 South High Street
Columbus, Ohio 43206
Phone: (614) 444-4211 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
…Comment is from the internet fund raising site www.gofundme.com/Bring-Piper-Home, saying,
Piper is the reason…. we will continue on…. she is not home yet, and we will not stop until she is. Thank you ALL.
Piper’s Owner Veronica Wagner Covatch, 1589 Motten Road, Punxsutawney, PA (814) 938-4091
Piper’s Co-Owner, Michelle Wilson, 70 W Chester Street, Apt C., Norwalk, Ohio (419) 681-4891
Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue, director Penny G. Sanderbeck, HQ located at 2266 Majestic Place, Columbus, Ohio 43232 (614) 578-0921
When asked about the growing concerns over Piper’s well-being, Lloyd Cohen, the attorney for Covatch, answered, “Since she’s [Sanderbeck] had Piper for a while and we don’t know what she’s done and what to believe, our feeling is to bring this to light. Since filings have been made, that should be very helpful as far as protecting Piper.”
When asked why Piper has not been returned, Cohen had this response:
“To me, Penny [Sanderbeck] appears to have some confusion as to whether she’s the director of a 501c3 organization or it is just some front for her personal enterprise. Court pleadings allege that and we will be following up on that in Court.”
“No matter what the disputes between the people are, the replevin action is filed because the personal disputes have nothing to do with ownership of Piper and whether Piper, as a living, feeling creature, should be restored to the owners with whom she is bonded”
Questions Unanswered (Yet)
This legal battle clearly draws the lines for all pet owners, shelters, rescue organization and individuals who might mean well but don’t understand their own liability in finding and keeping an animal. This battle is not just over one dog – it is about all dogs who go lost or are stolen.
Why are owners along with their dogs put through unjustifiable emotional and financial trauma needlessly?
Has the public trust in rescue been breached? Who has oversight over rescue organizations and non-profits? Do rescue organizations need stricter oversight?
Should owners/breeders be concerned if their dogs end up in a rescue situation? Will their dogs be made to “disappear”, too?
Will microchip manufacturers find their products are no longer trusted to help lost pets be quickly reunited as advertised?
This is Not Over
Piper has a microchip. She was only “missing” a few hours before being picked up. Her microchip was found and the contact listed. Why did the shelter allow an identified dog to be quickly given over to another organization without following through on the microchip? Why didn’t Sanderbeck/COSR try to call the contact number for the microchip when it was also recorded on Piper’s release form?
How can a rescue that has possession of a microchipped dog for only 24 hours justify not returning that dog to the owner?
But, the real question here is this:
“Piper is microchipped! What IS the issue here?
That question has yet to be answered, but I feel sure that when Sanderbeck stands in a Court of Law, she will be given the opportunity to do so and we will be there to keep you informed as to her response!