- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2000

Many facts in this story are in dispute, but this much is clear. C. Brooks Brann and Patricia Dalby used to live together in Newport Beach, Calif. While together, they acquired a Rottweiler, Guinness, who kept company with Miss Dalby's Rottweiler, Roxanne. Alas, the human relationship ended. Mr. Brann moved to Montana. He left Guinness behind. Thus Rottweilers Roxanne and Guinness have a more stable relationship than Mr. Brann and Miss Dalby.

Last year, Mr. Brann filed suit in a California court to get Guinness back. He claimed Miss Dalby hid the dog when he was moving out. He is seeking $25,000 in damages from Miss Dalby and her son, Randy, because of the emotional distress he suffered. The case is scheduled to go to trial in December.

Who owns Guinness? Now a court will have to decide. Miss Dalby admits the couple got Guinness whose coloring resembles that of the Irish ale because Mr. Brann wanted a dog. Still, she claims that her son owns Guinness on paper in part because Randy got Guinness from a vet he knew. When asked who owns Guinness on paper, San Francisco attorney David Marble, who represents Mr. Brann, gave this answer: "I invite you to attend the trial."

A journalist's surmise: Mr. Brann doesn't have a piece of paper that makes Guinness his dog, and that's why Mr. Brann is suing not only Patti Dalby but also Randy.

Which leaves some poor judge faced with the prospect of presiding over a lawsuit that is really a custody battle over a dog. Miss Dalby's attorney, Robert Newman, points out that such issues are settled in family courts every day. Nonetheless, he recognizes that it is possible that this case could set a precedent if the presiding judge bases the decision on which adult could provide a better home for Guinness.

It's come to this, America: What is in the best interest of the doggie? For her part, Patricia Dalby argues that splitting up the dogs would be cruel to both Guinness and Roxanne. She denies that Mr. Brann was particularly involved with Guinness. She also does not think it is fair that one party with money and a lawyer can use the legal system to squeeze another party without money. "He's trying to take something from me because he has the money to do that," she said.

Miss Dalby sees Mr. Brann's request for $25,000 in damages to be particularly heavy-handed. No lie.

Mr. Brann would not speak to me on the record. His attorney claims that Mr. Brann "misses his dog very much. He looks forward to the trial date in this matter. He is very despondent and disappointed that this can't be resolved between himself and Patti, but he's been left absolutely no choice." That's right, no choice but to sue his ex-girlfriend and her son, not only for the dog, but also for $25,000.

And you thought politics was dirty.

Observers worry that this case could be part of a wave in litigation that seeks to give animals rights in this case to the most loving home. Miss Dalby told USA Today she hoped the case would set "some precedent here that would help others in the future."

Pepperdine law professor Richard Cupp noted that, while he has not studied the Brann vs. Dalby case, "Unless there's something like abuse going on, maybe it's not the best use of our judicial resources litigating whether a Rottweiler is going to be happier in one home where he's fed and loved versus another home where he's fed and loved."

Both Mr. Cupp and American Tort Reform Association attorney Victor Schwartz worry about the courts slowly switching their treatment of pets from chattel to people in a way that could involve an explosion in pet-related litigation. Said Mr. Schwartz: "We are in a nation now where people bring lawsuits where, if we look at the past, there's no basis for it. And once in a while, one of these cases breaks through."

And when one of those cases breaks through, the tail wags the dog. He wants damages for being deprived of a pet. She wants the courts to consider what's best for the dog, even if a court rules that the dog belongs to him. And if the courts rule in favor of doggie rights, especially in Guinness' right to be with Roxanne, where could this case lead? Follow the scent to the fire hydrant.



Debra J. Saunders is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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