By close of business May 13th , pet owner Jamie Patterson was frustrated and disappointed. Just three days earlier the Honorable Craig D. Brewer had ruled in her favor in Patterson’s civil suit against local animal rescue, Rough Road Rescue, ordering the organization to return her dog, Mack.
Patterson’s dog went missing back in Dec. and through a strange turn of events the rescue recovered Mack and refused to return the dog to Patterson. The rescue maintained that Patterson’s inability to keep Mack contained was a breach of contract. Patterson had adopted Mack from Rough Road Rescue a year prior. During that year Mack had gotten loose on three occasions.
The rescue had essentially repossessed Patterson’s dog.
In February, Patterson retained an attorney and filed a civil suit against Rough Road Rescue and founders Steve and Linda Svehla in an attempt to bring Mack back home to his family.
The April 28 hearing lasted more than three hours as testimony was heard from four witnesses; defendants Steve and Linda Svehla; plaintiff Jamie Patterson; and witness for the plaintiff, Gila Todd, a former board member of the rescue.
As the hearing concluded Judge Brewer denied any punitive damages in the case stating that he didn’t want to place any undue stress or financial burden on the small organization causing them additional hardship. He did not immediately rule on the case but instead put his ruling on hold to review all admitted evidence and weigh witness testimony.
On May 10th the court filed the decision ordering Rough Road Rescue to return Patterson’s dog. Defendants were ordered to deliver Mack to the Perry County Sheriff’s Department and if they failed to do so the sheriff should retake the dog and return him to Patterson.
In the days since the order the rescue had hired a new attorney. In the last hours of business on Friday, Rough Road Rescue, still refusing to return the dog, filed a motion for Stay of Judgment pending their filing of an appeal. Judge Brewer denied said motion but the rescue still refused to return Mack.
In addition, legal counsel for the rescue filed a Writ of Prohibition with the Missouri Eastern District Court of Appeals demanding the Honorable Craig D. Brewer file an answer on his ruling to deny the motion. Judge Brewer’s answer must be filed by May 26.
During the hearing, Judge Brewer stated that while he understood the emotion surrounding this case he could only make judgment based on the law. And under Missouri law, animals are considered property.
“Many people view pets as more than mere property”, said Zach Rozier, Patterson’s attorney. “We imprint our emotions onto our furry friends and work hard to ensure they never know sadness. However, the law in Missouri requires an impartial application and emotion must be removed from these issues for a proper ruling. As such, Missouri views a cow, cat, and even a dog as property of the owner. Baring any actions that violate criminal law, the owner of an animal is free to care and raise their pets in any manner they choose. With Ms. Patterson, we were in the process of determining who owns Mack, and thus who was able to keep him.”
“As with many rescues,” Rozier continues, “Rough Road Rescue used a contract to pass ownership of Mack to Ms. Patterson back in January of 2015. When Ms. Patterson paid Rough Road and took Mack into her home, she then became Mack's family and had full rights in him. Further, when Ms. Patterson neutered Mack and moved into a home with a fence, she satisfied any special conditions of Rough Road's contract. The Judge when presented with these facts, among others, determined that Rough Road's contract was satisfied well in advance of the repossession of Mack in December 2015, and as such, Ms. Patterson was considered the true owner of Mack and entitled to bring him back into her family.
The judge’s determination was reflected in the verbiage of his order.
“..defendants conduct and tactics have not always been appropriate. They appear to have a sense that only they have the best interests of the animal in mind and, in the present case, have projected onto Plaintiff the perception that she is an animal abuser. The Court makes no finding based on any evidence presented that Plaintiff has by her acts or omissions intentionally caused harm to Mack.”
“..the rescue’s good works are often diminished by caustic allegations toward third parties and burnt bridges that have the effect of compromising their purported mission. The Defendants are encouraged to be less heavy-handed and more collaborative in their efforts.”
Oddly enough the judge made official the sentiment of so many who have dealt with the rescue in the past. Personal attacks against several individuals and organizations have taken place on the rescue’s Facebook page leaving hard feelings among people who might support the rescue if not for their “our way or no way” and “we are the know it all about animals” attitude. Anyone who disagrees with posts made by the rescue is quickly dealt with in a barrage of belittling and offensive comments by both members of the rescue and their supporters alike.
Patterson has been no exception to this kind of behavior. Vague statements and insinuation made by the rescue led many followers to make harsh judgments without knowing all the facts of the case. Several contacted Patterson through social media and became so intrusive and offensive that Patterson closed down her personal Facebook page for weeks.
Patterson and her children are devastated by the events of the past five months.
“I feel so many things. Depressed, angry, powerless, confused. I don't understand a person's strong desire to take a family member from us over something that happens to most dog owners. He [Steve Svehla] claims he's doing it for Mack’s sake, but I don't see how a kennel is better than a family that loves him”, said Patterson. “We have six children that love Mack. They too are angry and sad, and ask about Mack every single day.”
Patterson says she has no intention of giving up. She’s hoping the Judge will make his reply to the writ soon and Mack will come home. She says that even if the rescue files an appeal she intends to fight it to the very end.
“Mack is the best dog I have ever met. We all love him so much. It kills me to think that he’s sat in a kennel all these months, probably wondering why his family hasn’t come to take him home,” said Patterson.
Many following the case question the punitive damages included in Patterson’s case. According to Patterson’s attorney the punitive damages were requested as a deterrent to the rescue acting in the future as they have in the Patterson case. He’d hoped that it would make the founders of the rescue think twice before illegally stepping up to take anyone else's animals.
“Punitive damages are used to punish the defendant; they have in some way acted wrongly or fraudulent in their conduct, amounting to a need to find additional sums against them to ensure they will not act like this again," said Rozier. “Judge Brewer found that we were within the ability to have punitive damages but elected to refrain from granting them. Further, punitive damages would not have all gone to Jamie. Missouri Law requires Jamie to first pay her attorney and any costs of the action, then the State of Missouri would take up to half of it and place it into the Tort Victims' Compensation Fund.”
As it happened, punitive damages were dismissed by the judge deterring undue financial stress on the organization that might cause them to close their doors. However, on Apr. 29th, the day following the hearing, and almost two weeks before the ruling was made the rescue announced that they were indeed “closed until further notice”.
Since that time, Rough Road Rescue has retained a new attorney and continued on into an extremely expensive legal arena. Additional filings in the case and a possible appeal could cost the rescue upwards of $30,000 or more in attorney's fees, payments to the court, payment on bonds, etc. Should any appeal be taken, it will likely take years before the Eastern District of Appeals will hear the case.
Although they claim to be a small and struggling organization, one might assume they have deep pockets to be able to continue this one case in the manner they have; except their recent pleas on social media ask for donations citing ongoing care and expensive veterinary bills for the animals remaining at a rescue that is closed. However, there is no mention in those pleas about the exuberant costs of already incurred legal fees, current fees for a new attorney and recent filings, and future legal expenses that they will certainly incur in an appeal.
“I am appalled that all this money is being used to keep an animal in a kennel and not back at home where he belongs. How is this money helping animals? It’s not. It is just being used as a personal vendetta. I am shocked by the behavior of people who state their mission is to help animals find loving homes,” said a former supported of Rough Road Rescue, requesting anonymity fearing retribution from the rescue and its current supporters.
Patterson’s mother, Torrie, expressed her grief over what has transpired. “I will never understand Mr. Svehla's reasoning that caused so much heartache for my daughter, grandchildren, and Mack. He was loved as well as healthy. This has been heartbreaking and expensive. Why did we go through the effort to win a decision from a judge and cannot get his order executed? Why? So many why’s and so many tears,” said Torrie.
Regardless of the high emotional content surrounding this case the facts remain that Mack was adopted and cared for by his family for a year before any incident occurred. He was happy and loved and living every dog’s dream. He was illegally confiscated by the rescue he originated from, and unjustly withheld from his rightful owner for months over nothing more than the fact that he got loose from his home. Now, even though a court ruling says that Mack should be home with his family, Rough Road Rescue continues to hold him against a court order and has full intention of taking on additional extreme expense, putting their entire organization at risk, with unfounded basis for their actions.
Throughout this entire fiasco, the real loser is Mack, who currently sits in a kennel at the rescue where he’s been waiting to go home for months.
Relevant link: Ruling on Case No. 16PR-AC00051
JAMIE F. PATTERSON, Plaintiff VS ROUGH ROAD RESCUE, INC., STEVE SVEHLA, LINDA SVEHLA, Defendants
Originally published on Examiner.com May 15, 2016
Author: Gila Todd