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Judge: Man has no right to see dog

Yorkshire terrier ruled ‘personal property’ of ex-girlfriend

People have affection and love for their dogs and cats, but when the pets become the object of what was once domestic bliss, the courts provide a harsher perspective on the subject.

Such was the case this week when Blair County Judge Wade A. Kagarise ruled that a Yorkshire terrier was “personal property” of an Altoona woman, and the man with whom she had a relationship, retired firefighter Scott Douglas, had no legal right to visit with the dog.

The dog’s name is Marco, and Kagarise, in a five-page opinion, stated that Douglas had “genuine affection” for the dog, but concluded that the pet was “an item of personal property.”

“We find that no relief is appropriate to the plaintiff, Scott Douglas,” he ruled.

Douglas’ Hollidaysburg attorney, Phillip O. Roberston, himself a dog owner, said no decision has been made whether he will appeal the ruling.

But, there is little doubt that the issue was hotly disputed.

The initial lawsuit was filed 19 months ago in which Douglas requested a court order declaring him 50 percent owner of the dog and that he be allowed weekly contact with it until the request for judgment was resolved.

Preliminary objections were filed by Altoona attorney Michael Adams, representing the woman, and Kagarise rejected both the request for weekly visitation and the request by the defense to dismiss the lawsuit.

Both sides agreed on a list of facts related to the case, including:

— Lakemont Veterinary Clinic records showed the woman was the person who was the client seeking care for Marco.

— Douglas would assist with the expenses related to Marco’s care and it continued after the couple separated.

— The woman was always listed on Marco’s dog license as the owner.

Quoting from a prior case before the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, Kagarise concluded, “There is no provision in Pennsylvania Law for custody arrangements involving personal property.”

As to Douglas assisting with expenses, the judge stated, “We find these acts by Mr. Douglas were gratuitous and due to his general desire to assist Marco.”

Robertson said the case was “novel,” but noted he recently had another case in which an Altoona woman was charged in Allegheny County with theft for not returning the family dog to her “ex.”

Charges were dropped last year when she obtained a court order stating the dog was her property.

Such cases in Blair County are few and far between, but a search of Altoona Mirror files shows that, in 1977, the late Blair County Judge Robert Haberstroh made national news when he refused to return a cat named Tilda to its alleged owner, noting cats were not considered domestic pets but were instead characterized as “wild” animals.

Adams said he thought Kagarise’s ruling was “an excellent decision. It was the right decision.”

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