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Piper the Sheltie hand-off stand-off: Penny Sanderbeck and COSR post $10K bond

Legacies Pipe Dream (Piper)  is at the center of a custody battle.
Legacies Pipe Dream (Piper) is at the center of a custody battle.
Veronica Wagner Covatch.

Monday, according to a report in Best in Show online magazine, Penny Sanderbeck, president of Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue, has posted the $10,000 bond in response to the judge's order to hand over the sheltie known as Piper.

On Thursday, 7 August 2014, Penny Sanderbeck was busy on Facebook, but she made no mention on her Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue Facebook page that the day before, 6 August 2014 (Wednesday), a judge had ordered that she, as the president of Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue, return Legacies Pipe Dream (call name Piper) to Veronica Wagner Covatch.

Covatch's attorney, Lloyd D. Cohen of Columbus, Ohio, filed a Complaint for Replevin and Conversion action in the Franklin County Municipal Court against COSR (Case Number 2014-CVF-024571) on 28 July 2014.

Sanderbeck's attorney John A. Bell was asked for a response regarding the judge's order to turn over Piper to Covatch on Friday, 8 August 2014, and gave no reply by today, Monday.

Sanderbeck wrote on the COSR Facebook page: "OKAY...LISTEN UP! We have been silent and will remain so until this litigation is completed. We will not debate this on social media now or in the future. However, we have been asked to make a public statement from various sources because of the exaggerations and outlandish stories that are circulating right now.

So our statement is this....please go to our website at the official statement there from our attorney remains the same as our statement now. You see, when you are telling the truth, the stories don't change and the "press releases" are not necessary and therefore our statement doesn't vary.

Be advised that any and all violations of the law will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

We wish to thank all our valued and loyal followers. We appreciate you standing with us during this troubling time.

We are continuing to make a dog at a time."

The official statement is a letter written by attorney Bell, but in itself raises some issues as delineated in a previous article. One of the issues was that Sanderbeck believed a burglary at her house was related to Piper and no "placement" would be made until the person responsible for the burglary was identified. Yet there were two other burglaries reported between 18-30 of April 2015 in her area according to the Columbus Police Department Web Portal. Sanderbeck's report (140341932-001), however, is not listed so there may be more incidents of burglary.

Sanderbeck as the president of COSR is collecting PM from Walt Christensen to her supporters, writing on the COSR FB page: "Okay we are now receiving reports that a Walt Christensen is sending you folks all private messages to slander us and harass you. Please take a screen shot and send it to us privately.

Then please open the message completely...(not in the tiny chat window) so that you see the list of all your chats to the left....and you click on the "gear" at the top, you can report him for harassment and also move him to spam.

Please do not respond or debate with him or anyone else that contacts you. We appreciate your help with this matter and with your help will pursue this via legal means.

We do apologize for these people and any inconvenience this may cause you. Thank you again for understanding and your continued support."

Slander is a legal term. In order for the plaintiff to recover monies for a libel or slander suit, "the plaintiff must show evidence of four elements" according to the Free Legal Dicionary:

  1. The defendant made a defamatory statement or message.
  2. The message or statement was published.
  3. The plaintiff is identifiable as the person/entity references.T
  4. The plaintiff suffered an injury to his/her reputations as a result.

If the defendant does not publish the statement in a manner that is private, that "ordinarily would prevent others from seeing or hearing it" the statement has not been published. So there seems to be a difference from publishing in a newsletter or an online forum or bulletin board compared to sending out private messages, but emails can be defamatory. The important issue is that according to one website, "free speech lies in stating opinion not false fact."

As a public figure or someone who has voluntarily assumed a position in the public eye such as being a director or president of a nonprofit organization like COSR, Sanderbeck would have to show actual malice, knowledge that the information was false and reckless disregard for the truth.

States have varying laws regarding cyberharassment and cyberstalking (Ohio Rev. Code § 2903.211
Ohio Rev. Code §§ 2917.21(A), 2913.01(Y)). Ohio Rev. Code § 2903.211 requires actual menace. Ohio Rev. Code 2917.21 Telecommunications harassment has several requirements including that the person has asked the person not to contact them any more. The last code refers to theft and fraud. Harassment may or may not be the basis for a lawsuit, particularly if the person is from a protected class (race, sex, etc.) or it involves a work situation. Online, one can, of course, easily block a person.

Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue has begun a "Sponsor a Sheltie" campaign for $5000 on Razoo. The COSR Facebook page has also begun a support campaign posting photos of mostly handwritten notes next to Shelties that had been rescued and adopted out by COSR.

There are, of course, two sides to each story. According to an anonymous poster (Sheltie Lover) who posted on the first article in this series, the real story is: "Piper along with another dog Covatch owns was put on a rehoming site back in December 2013 and transferred to complete strangers in another state. The dog got away from them in April and it's just a coincidence that it was during the nationals. They continue to lead people to believe that Piper was just with a petsitter, when in actuality, she was REHOMED and those people lost her and didn't notify the breeder until days later. If the article were filled with facts, don't you think the dog would be with Covatch? She could have just filed in small claims court for less than $100 and gotten the dog back. Think about it people. You don't know the whole story."

Another reader mentioned having previous problems with Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue.

One supporter of COSR on Facebbok urged COSR to take both the American Shetland Sheepdog Association and the National Sheltie Rescue Network to court, writing, "I hope you punish ASSA and NSRN to the maximum extent of the law when this is over for what they have promoted here."

According to Covatch's attorney, Lloyd Cohen, on 6 August 2014, officers of the court visited the residence of Sanderbeck to personally serve notice of the court order to return Piper or post a $10,000 bond. Sanderbeck posted this on the COSR Facebook page the next day: "Please take notice: To those of you that were here at my house video taping, taking photos and looking in windows....I have you on video and will be prosecuting....Trespassing is against the law. No right!

Why didn't you at least smile for us?"

Is there anything to smile about here? According to COSR comments, the police have been notified and shown the videos, but elsewhere on Facebook people wonder if these weren't the officers of the court themselves. On the other hand, although this news story doesn't seem to be attracting attention of the local newspapers, the people might have been reporters.

COSR continues to intake and adopt out shelties, but without the support of ASSA and NSRN. ASSA had previously attempted to mediate, something that Christensen had been involved in, but failed, ultimately, it seems according to Bell's letter, because it would not conduct a criminal investigation. Sanderbeck of COSR is determined to have her day in court and the whereabouts of Piper remains unclear. What is clear is that ownership of Piper isn't the only issue Sanderbeck wants resolved.

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