Ruling against rescue

Submitted photo

Mack, the dog at the center of lengthy dispute between Rough Road Rescue and Jamie Patterson, gets a hug from Patterson’s daughter Natalie during a family photo session in 2015.

 

“Every dog must have his day. And today is Mack’s day.”

That’s how appellate court Judge Lawrence E. Mooney opened his opinion statement recently when the Court of Appeals Eastern District delivered a ruling on what was described as “an unusual and weighty legal dispute” over the fate of Mack, a dog adopted by a Perryville woman from Rough Road Rescue, then reclaimed by Rough Road after the dog escaped from Patterson’s yard. Mack has been in Rough Road’s possession for over a year. 

Patterson filed suit in Perry County Associate Circuit Court and Judge Craig D. Brewer ruled that the adoption contract between Patterson and Rough Road had been fulfilled, negating any claim the rescue might have had on the dog.

Rough Road appealed the decision, but not before Rough Road president Steve Svehla had been jailed for contempt after refusing to return Mack to the Pattersons.

Late last month, the appellate court upheld Brewer’s initial decision. 

Mooney, backed by Judges Philip M. Hess and Gary M. Gaertner Jr., cited the “ambiguous” nature of the contract.

“This Court admires the rescue group’s meritorious mission,” Mooney wrote. “But we do not admire their confusing contract.”

Among the problems the court cited with the contract was that it referred to the dog’s adopter as its owner, “implying that the adopter acquires ownership, not merely possession of the animal.” 

In the opinion, the court also cited the fact that Gila Todd, a Rough Road Rescue board member who helped draft the contract, testified on Patterson’s behalf that the adoption process severed the rescue operation’s rights to Mack.

Mooney added that it would be unreasonable to uphold an interpretation that “would result in the rescue group maintaining a long leash on Mack for the duration of his life.” 

“Animal-welfare advocate Roger Caras once remarked that ‘Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole,” Mooney wrote in conclusion. “The time has come for Mack to be returned home and the Patterson family made whole.”

Svehla did not immediately return phone calls or emails from the Republic-Monitor requesting comment on the court’s decision.

According to court records, Rough Road argued that it’s customary for animal rescue operations to retain a right to repossess adopted animals if the adopters turn out to have provided a poor home. 

“If shelters like Rough Road transferred permanent ownership upon the execution of adoption contracts, the contracts and conditions they set forth would serve no purpose,” the brief said. “Shelters would have no rights or recourse in the event that adopters breached the terms of their agreements, or abused, mistreated, or neglected adopted animals.” 

The story began back in January 2015, when Jamie Patterson of Perryville and her family visited Rough Road Rescue, the only licensed animal rescue in Perry County, to donate blankets for the dogs.

“We had no intentions of adopting,” said Patterson during an interview Tuesday at her lawyer’s office, “but my son and I fell in love with Mack.”

Patterson spoke with Svehla about adopting the dog, described as a boxer-mastiff mix.

“He was kind of leery at first,” said Patterson, “ and said he’d give us a call after he put some thought into it. He did and called us out to meet with Mack several times and play with him and whatnot. He had a home visit, where he brought Mack to us.”

According to Patterson, the home visit went well enough that Svehla, breaking with his usual protocol, left Mack with them that day, asking only that the family put up a fence by May. Patterson agreed and Mack quickly became part of the family.

Not long after, Patterson and her husband separated. She and her children relocated to a farm outside of town. The property was already fenced in, which allowed Mack and a neighbor’s dog to roam freely.

Patterson later purchased a home in Perryville and installed an invisible electric fence. Mack managed to get out a couple of times and was returned safely. On his third escape, however, he was caught by animal control. Mack managed to escape from the animal control officer and went missing.

A reward was offered and Rough Road offered to help. According to Patterson, a person who found Mack contacted Svehla, who picked up the dog and took him to Rough Road’s facility west of Perryville.

According to court records, Rough Road then refused to return Mack to the Pattersons, alleging that they’d violated the terms of the adoption contract, which required Patterson to provide “proper food, water, shelter, exercise and love.” A handwritten addition required the Pattersons to erect a fence and that noncompliance with any of its provisions would give Rough Road Rescue authority to reclaim the animal. 

With the appellate court’s decision, Patterson is looking forward to having Mack back at home. It’s been more than a year since her family has seen the dog and she said they miss him terribly.

“My kids were very in love with Mack,” Patterson said. “I think rescue dogs are the best dogs you can have. It’s like his goal was just to make us happy. He just wanted to please us.

“He just really seemed to fit into the family really well. I just hope it’ll be over soon.”

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