Dog Caught In Custody Battle, Court Date Set

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Back in July, a stray puppy was picked up in Ox Bow Estates and delivered to the Payson Humane Society animal shelter.

Because the puppy was so young -- it was estimated she was only 5 weeks old -- she had to be given into someone's care until she was old enough for adoption.

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This is what an adult Bernese Mountain Dog looks like.

A society employee took the puppy home to foster. The young woman was involved with a young man in Pine and moved in with him and his family.

There was a falling out after about six weeks and the woman was kicked out of the house, leaving the puppy behind.

She reportedly quit her job at the Payson Humane Society and moved to Texas.

And that's how the dog ended up in the middle of a custody battle between a family and the humane society.

Before moving to Texas, the woman told the family in Pine, that the person fostering a dog is given the first opportunity to adopt it, and a waiting list is compiled in the event the foster "parent" doesn't want to adopt.

The family in Pine -- Mary Hansen, her daughter, Teresa Harvey, and son, Larry Smith --said they thought they were first on the list, which they were not.

The family still has the dog, which is believed to be a pure Burmese or Bernese Mountain Dog.

Carol Stubbs, with the humane society, said the family is not authorized to have the dog.

"We have procedures for adopting animals and procedures for fostering animals," Stubbs explained. "The employee was a foster parent who had filled out the paperwork and signed an agreement to foster the animal for us.

"We were told the animal was taken from the foster parent and have made many attempts to get the animal returned because we've had a waiting list to adopt the animal."

A series of steps were taken to retrieve the puppy. Letters were written and phone calls were made, but when those were not successful, a complaint was filed with the Gila County Sheriff's Office.

Harvey said she, her mother and brother have all been charged with theft.

Earlier they had been assured it was going to be a civil matter, not a criminal one, Hansen said. Now they have a pre-trial conference Dec. 5.

"We offered to adopt Panda on numerous occasions, but they told us there was already a waiting list," Harvey said. "We even offered them a donation of $400 to keep her, but that was turned down."

"We owe a duty, to our donors and the people who adopt our animals, to follow procedure," Stubbs said. "It's a rule of basic fairness to people who faithfully put their names on a waiting list.

"We also have a duty to follow state law, which says we can't adopt an animal out unless it's spayed or neutered. And a duty to the animals to adopt them out responsibly rather than just sell them to the highest bidder."

Harvey, who is 5-1/2 months pregnant, said she wants the dog for her baby. It is a tradition in her family that every child has a dog to grow up with.

"We want to fight the humane society for her," Harvey said.

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