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A heart attack and a holiday led to Piper being held captive by a rescue in Ohio

Photographic proof of ownership with vet records wasn't enough to get Piper released to owner Veronica Wagner Covatch.
Photographic proof of ownership with vet records wasn't enough to get Piper released to owner Veronica Wagner Covatch.
Veronica Wagner Covatch

The Red Cross tells us that we should prepare for disaster by having "current photos of you with your pet(s) in case they get lost" and "copies of medical records." The international organization also suggestions having your pet microchipped. You think that would be enough to reclaim your pet, but not always so. Piper, a dog well-documented enough as any champion dog is, disappeared amidst a tragedy months ago was soon found and even sooner claimed by a dog rescue that has proved its mission isn't to return animals to their rightful owners.

That should frighten any owner, no matter if your dog is purebred or not. This tale should frighten any owner because it shows just how easily one could lose one's pet, even when the dog is found, you might not be able to reclaim it, even if it finds its way into rescue or an animal shelter, with the very people who are supposed to be helping owners find their dogs and dogs find their owners.

Veronica Wagner Covatch left her dog Piper (Legacies Pipe Dream) with a friend in Columbus, Ohio when she left for the American Shetland Sheepdog Association National specialty show in St. Louis, Missouri. That was in April (11-19) of this year. The conformation shows are during the last weekend, specifically Easter weekend.

Piper's caretaker had a family tragedy: Her father had what was thought to be a heart attack. During this time, Piper escaped. That could have been tragic, but Piper was soon found and taken to the Franklin Animal Shelter on 17 April 2014. On Friday (18 April 2014), the shelter scanned piper and found the microchip. Piper should have been on her way home.

The microchip gave Franklin Animal Shelter the name of the vet. But there was a glitch. The vet did have the records, but not on the computer, because the office had been sold. The information was on hard copy--in paper files and the office was closed for the Easter holiday. The Franklin County Dog Shelter didn't have time for Easter even though one of their missions is to reunited lost dogs with their owners.

At Franklin County, dogs with a current Franklin County dog license are held for 14 days. Unlicensed dogs are held for only three days. Veronica Wagner Covatch lives in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. She would not have been required to license her dog in Franklin County since this was a temporary situation, According to Covatch, the dog is licensed in both Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Punxsutawney is four hours and 16 minutes away from Columbus, Ohio (263 miles). Punxsutawney's most famous resident is a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil and Hollywood made him even more famous by featuring him in the movie "Groundhog Day." It's about ten hours and 30 minutes from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to St. Louis, Missouri, but six hours from Columbus to St. Louis, Missouri.

The animal shelter is open on Saturday and Sunday, even Easter Sunday. And although its website claims that "every attempt is made to reunite the lost dog with its owner" the animal shelter, according to Covatch didn't attempt to contact the vet again, after the holiday weekend. Instead, the Franklin County Animal Shelter turned over the dog to Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue. If Covatch didn't have photos and Piper's paper on her, she would have to drive over ten hours to her home and turned around to drive another six hours to Columbus, Ohio. For a normal person, even if she found out on Good Friday, she would have likely needed Saturday and Sunday to drive back home and then double back to Columbus, Ohio.

Covatch learned about Piper's disappearance on 22 April 2014 when Piper was already in the custody of Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue (as of 21 April 2014). COSR was contacted about Piper on 22 April 2014. Covatch responded on the same day she learned about Piper's disappearance on the very day she returned from her trip.

Piper is a bi-black sheltie. While often tricolor shelties and even some sable and white shelties might look alike, bi-black often have identifying marks. Piper has a white beauty dot in the middle of her forehead and a white triangle on her nose. She does not have a complete white collar. She has four white feet. She has natural semi-prick ears.

Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue is registered with the IRS (EIN 41-2091160). COSR is a nonprofit corporation registered with the State of Ohio (#1380611) since 8 April 2003. According to its Articles of Incorporation, its purpose is "The prevention of cruelty to animals, relief of suffering animals and the extention of humane education throughout the state of Ohio, consistent with the laws of the state of Ohio" and "to provide resources for the care of homeless, abandoned or ill-treated animals, to educate the public as to the proper care and treatment of animals and to engage in such other activities which may be the futherance of the above state purposes so as to promote the general welfare of animals anywhere."

The mission statement doesn't include the return of animals as one might expect. The nonprofit was incorporated by Penny Sanderbeck and John W. Sanderbeck with Judy A. Colegrove. Penny Sanderbeck is listed as president. According to records, COSR has a P.O. Box, but the residence listed is a 936 square feet single family resident with two bedrooms and one bathroom and a basement.

The current website for Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue includes an attorney's letter dated 10 May 2014 from the office of John A. Bell. According to this attorney since 25 April 2014, there have been internet posts, letters and emails about Piper.

Piper came into the possession of COSR in compliance with Ohio laws as an unlicensed stray. The letter notes that the co-owner has turned over a pedigree, vet records and photos. All the things that the Red Cross tells us as dog owners we need. There seems to be a minor quibble about the microchip. The main problem for COSR seems to be that the microchip was not registered and not that it might point to the owner through a vet.

There was, according to Bell, a burglary at the residence of the Sanderbeck residence and this is being investigated by the Columbus Police Department and according to the Bell this is related to Piper.

The National Shetland Sheepdog Association also became involved according to Bell, but because the representatives were "never willing to take any steps toward identification of the person(s) responsible for the burglary or other criminal actions against COSR, their actions as intermediaries was refused. That organization had requested ("demanded") the COSR turn Piper over to another rescue and felt Covatch was "the rightful owner."

The problem here is that the attorney and COSR seem to believe that a national breed organization is better suited to perform a criminal investigation than the Columbus Police Department. COSR doesn't feel that Covatch is the rightful owner because Piper belongs to COSR, not because Covatch can't prove ownership via a microchip or because Covatch, as a resident of another state, would not be obligated to have her dog licensed in Ohio. Nor does COSR seem to feel compassion for the caretaker whose father was having heart problems.

According to the attorney's letter, Piper will not be placed until "those responsible for the burglary and the internet bullying have been identified" but by this action, Bell and COSR attempt to tie the resolution of a civil case (ownership of a dog) with a criminal case (burglary). Criminal and civil cases are generally not heard in the same court.

Further, it is worth noting that the letter repeatedly refers to "internet bullying" and "cyber-bullying" which are not specific legal offenses as are libel, slander or defamation of character. As a public figure because she is a director of Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue, the Penny Sanderbeck would have to prove actual malice, meaning knowledge of the falsity or reckless disregard for the truth.

Once this case became public, as well it should given the extent of proof that the owner has been willing to provide and the extent that COSR has been stubbornly denying, Bell and COSR hold the Covatch responsible for the actions of the public unless the consider a widespread national conspiracy against COSR. Comments I read online were from different states and amongst different breeds (e.g. a pitbull forum).

The attorney notes "There have already been felonies committed against COSR personnel, directly incited by people on the internet. Nevertheless, they are free to express their own opinions." If the persons responsible for the felonies have not yet been caught and charged, if the crime hasn't been proven, then how can one know if those felonies were "directly incited by people on the internet"? Further, if the words on the Internet should be found to be inciting illegal actions, then the responsibility would more likely fall upon the forum where the comments are posted not on the individual such as Covatch.

It is, as the Bell notes, a shame that the animal shelter is receiving calls that he characterizes as "harassment" but that is a different issue. He is not representing the animal shelter. The harassment is not a legal issue. The phone calls are not pertinent to determining the legal ownership of Piper.

Moreoever, so much of this could have been avoided if COSR had been willing to accept the kind of proof that would ordinarily be acceptable: vet records and photos. COSR also had a microchip trail and was offered DNA proof. DNA has exonerated people on death row, but it's not enough to prove the identity of one little dog?

Most breed rescues attempt to work with and have the support of the national breed organization. After all, breed rescues and breed associations are supposedly interested in the welfare of the breed. COSR no longer seems to have the support of the American Shetland Sheepdog Association who feels Covatch is the rightful owner. Penny Sanderbeck raised the profile of COSR, however, in a very negative manner not only amongst Shetland Sheepdog owners and breeders, but among dog owners of other breeds and mixed breeds.

This kind of story should strike fear in the hearts of all dog owners, prevent us from leaving our dogs behind, particularly with friends in different cities or states. It serves as a warning to people traveling with their dogs who might be microchipped but unlicensed or at least unlicensed in the state they are traveling in. It should serve as a warning to people with mutts who won't have DNA to prove a dog is theirs. And for those of us who take on the added expense of microchipping, it should be a warning that sometimes even that isn't enough to help your dog find its way home if the shelter isn't diligent enough or if the person who takes possession just refuses to give the dog up.

There is no way for the Sanderbeck, COSR and their attorney to erase all the comments on the Internet and those comments shouldn't be erased. People need history so that they won't repeat the same mistakes. People need to know who they are dealing with. On the one hand, we have someone determined to get her dog back--something that rescues and animal shelters want in an owner--and on the other hand, we have someone determined to keep the dog and do as she pleases despite evidence because few dogs are as well documented as champions.

Veronica Wagner Covatch has both a campaign and a GoFundMe campaign. Covatch estimates she will spend $5000 in order to get Piper back. She shouldn't have to, but it seems like she has no choice. Covatch does have an attorney in Columbus, Ohio: Lloyd D. Cohen ((614) 444-4211 Email: On July 28, 2014, Covatch filed a Complaint for Replevin and Conversion action in the Franklin County Municipal Court, in Columbus Ohio, against COSR (Case Number 2014-CVF-024571)

How much is COSR spending on legal fees for one dog whose owner wants it back? Couldn't those funds be better used for other dogs? Most rescues complain about dog owners who throw away dogs like tissue paper or dog breeders who won't take responsibility for their dogs. Why fight an owner and breeder who wants her dog back and is willing to take on the battle from another state, particularly since the only abuse that is mentioned is verbal abuse toward COSR and not the dog?

Poor Piper. Piper needs to be rescued from the Central Ohio Rescuers. Let's help Piper return home.

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