Yukon territorial court has settled yet another dog dispute, ordering the owner of an animal rescue to pay $3,600 for giving away a dog that wasn’t hers.
On Friday Judge Heino Lilles found that Shelley Cuthbert shouldn’t have given away Buddy the dog, who was temporarily staying at her rescue.
Cuthbert operates Any Domesticated Animal Rescue and Boarding Kennels in Tagish.
In July, Emerald Gillespie placed Buddy, a five-year-old black and brown pitbull-Rottweiler cross, at Cuthbert’s rescue while Gillespie was looking for somebody else to adopt the dog.
But when Gillespie came to retrieve Buddy, Cuthbert claimed Gillespie had surrendered the dog.
By the time Gillespie got a court order to place the dog in the care of the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter, the dog was gone.
Cuthbert maintained that she gave the dog away to a couple that lost Buddy during transport to Alberta.
Gillespie’s lawyer Graham Lang told the court the case was no longer about getting the dog back, since there were little hope to find him, but about Cuthbert’s actions.
She was aware of the court order when she gave the dog away, Lang told the court on Friday.
In his oral decision, Lilles agreed, saying Cuthbert tried to “thwart” the court process by giving the dog away.
He awarded Gillespie $200 for the loss of the dog, and $900 for legal costs.
He also ordered Cuthbert pay an extra $2,500 to Gillespie because of the “abuse of court process.”
It was a bittersweet victory for Gillespie, who said she only wanted to get her dog back.
“That’s really sad, I’m never going to see him again,” she told journalists outside the courtroom. “But I got to see an objective party tell Shelley (Cuthbert) that what she did was wrong. That’s justice.”
It was the best outcome they could have hoped for, Lang added.
“This will make Ms. Cuthbert think twice in the future, hopefully, about dealing with people in an upfront and fair manner,” he said. “The sad thing here is that really Ms Gillespie just wanted her dog back. She doesn’t want money.”
After Cuthbert gave the dog away in spite of the court action, another judge had found her conduct to be “obstructive” and expressed concerns over her threats she made to euthanize Buddy in an affidavit.
Lang had asked Lilles to order $7,500 in punitive damages to deter people from such behaviour.
“She was well aware the action was being vigorously pursued,” Lang said. “She took steps that put the property beyond the Plaintiff’s (reach).”
While she clearly abused the court process, Lilles opposed the request for punitive damages, because those are unusual in small claims cases.
Lang also pointed to Cuthbert’s delaying tactics.
On the eve of the trial, Cuthbert sought to have the case dismissed — judge Michael Cozens ruled her application had no merit and was “unnecessary.”
At a discovery hearing in November, Cuthbert claimed her dogs ate court documents about Buddy’s interim custody.
On Friday Cuthbert testified Gillespie called her on July 19 to say she was surrendering the dog, which Gillespie denied.
Cuthbert admitted during cross-interrogation that it was her rescue’s policy to provide written confirmation when a dog is surrendered.
She only provided written notice a month after the July 19 call, after Gillespie’s repeated inquiries, Lang said.
He also said that when Gillespie adopted the dog from Mae Bachur, she signed a contract requiring her to go through the shelter first if she was to surrender the dog or give it up for adoption.
As the former president of the shelter, Cuthbert knew about that requirement, but told the judge it wasn’t her responsibility to follow the contract.
After the four-month legal ordeal, Gillespie said she isn’t ready to adopt a new dog just now.
“I’ll stick with my friends’ dogs for now,” she said.
Cuthbert declined to comment.
She will be back in court next year to contest a lawsuit by six of her neighbours, who claim the shelter is a nuisance.
Contact Pierre Chauvin at email@example.com