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Waiting for the hand-off; Will COSR director obey court order to return Piper?

Piper waiting to be rescued from the rescuers.
Piper waiting to be rescued from the rescuers.
Veronica Wagner Covatch.

The question now is will the stand-off that began mid-April when Central Ohio Sheltie Rescue director Penny Sanderbeck took possession of champion sheltie Piper end today? The judge has ordered the dog be returned to owner 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.

Replevin is sometimes known as a "claim and delivery" order. Replevin is an old concept in Common Law, a legal procedure for claiming the right to have personal property "returned from the possession of one who had less legal right to hold it than the plaintiff" according to the Free Legal dictionary. The motion is meant to reclaim property and the defendant can not claim that the property, in this case Piper, belonged to someone not involved because "the only issue before the court was rightful possession, not title." An uncooperative defendant "can be ordered to pay monetary damages to the other party."

The concept of conversion is that the defendant has converted goods to his own use and excludes the actual owner from use. In the case that the property has been lost, the defendant has found the property and refused to return them. Conversion applies to the "unlawful taking or use of someone else's property."

Yesterday, an Ohio judge granted an order for immediate possession of Piper. According to the press release sent out by Cohen, "Among other things, the court ordered that: (1) The rescue is not to conceal or harm Piper;(2) COSR may be inspected and Piper brought home; and (3),If Piper is not found the rescue must produce her within five days."

According to Cohen, yesterday (Wednesday), officers of the court were expected to have completed an inspection of COSR headquarters (director Penny Sanderbeck’s Columbus, Ohio residence).

When asked via email to comment on this case, Sanderbeck’s attorney, John A. Bell, wrote back, “The matter about which you are asking is currently in litigation in the Franklin County Municipal Court. Our office will answer the Complaint and defend the action in court, but our clients will not be making any public statements while the action is pending.”

Cohen responded via email by writing, “This is the case of the unneeded rescue. Piper's owners contacted the rescue within hours after the County Animal Shelter re-homed Piper but were without success. Following the owners' personal efforts, the former lawyer collected and communicated verification of identify and ownership without success. Now, even though Piper has been detained for a while, as the second lawyer on the scene I've only been working on this matter about 30 days. In that time, court action was commenced but so far court pleadings have never claimed that the rescue did anything wrong except that it failed to let Piper immediately come home. A judge must have agreed that Piper does not need a rescue because based on the filed complaint for replevin and supporting motion, an order for immediate possession was granted. We are presently waiting to see if the rescue will cooperate with the court order or if they will put this dispute ahead of their stated mission to advance animal welfare.”

Both Cohen and Covatch have been very careful to emphasize that they both believe in rescues and support them. Cohen wrote in yesterday’s press release, “Not only as attorney for the plaintiff but also as a person, I support rescues. I have helped and supported several rescues. I know many people who devote much of their time and resources to canine, feline and equine rescues. In general, rescues fulfill a noble purpose.

Our action against COSR is not criticism of any other rescue and not a comment on any other situation except Piper’s. To those who have commented,I want to explain that legal action is not a popularity contest.”

Covatch has been trying to raise money to cover her attorney’s fees and other costs using GoFundMe , auctions and even a Tupperware party. The fundraisers are listed on the Bring Piper Home Facebook page.

Currently, COSR has seven dogs listed for adoption on Petfinder: two seniors (Addison and Coz), two male adults (Patrick and Jasha) and three female adults (Jasmine, Duchess and Spangles). These dogs may have needed to be rescued, but Piper did not.

The judge has ordered that Piper be handed over, so now begins the wait for what we hope will be a happy reunion between Piper and Covatch, almost four months after Piper's escape.