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Man to get dog back after year-long battle
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It took a year but Joe Curtis will finally get his 10-year-old boxer Brutus back although someone may have to come up with thousands of dollars to pay veterinary bills run up after the local humane society sent the canine there for treatment and lodging.
Meanwhile, former humane society cruelty officer Clay Lerch and his wife, former humane society president, Tammy Lerch, are off the hook in the lawsuit against them. They had faced the possibility of being held in contempt of court for twice thumbing their noses at a court order by original Judge Bill Locke to bring the dog to court. Their countersuit charging things like false arrest and defamation of character has also been laid to rest in a ruling made Monday night by Special Judge Bratten Cooke in which the judge found Curtis was the rightful owner of the dog and has the right to get it back. Holding up the process is the sizable vet bill owed to PetMed for treating and housing the Boxer for the past year.
The issue began in February 2014 when the humane society was called to a location off Old Beersheba Highway where a dog had been left without food and water and chained to an old tire.
“It was emaciated,” Clay Lerch testified, noting the dog was collected from outside the abandoned trailer and taken for veterinary assistance.
According to testimony by Curtis, the dog had disappeared from his property atop Harrison Ferry Mountain, located many miles from where the dog was found chained.
At some point a relative of Curtis saw the dog on a website and told Curtis. However, when Curtis contacted Mr. Lerch to get his dog back, the cruelty officer rebuffed him.
“He didn’t even have a picture of his dog,” Clay Lerch testified. “Who doesn’t have a picture of their dog?”
Claiming Curtis couldn’t produce proof, Lerch would not allow Curtis to see the dog. The breakdown in communication between Curtis and Lerch led to Curtis taking out theft charges against the humane society officer. Those charges were later dismissed after Judge Bill Locke declared the case was a civil case, not a criminal one.
Locke would end up recusing himself from the case after he publically said that he felt it was obvious the dog belonged to Curtis before the hearing on the civil suit was finished. He also said he felt the Lerchs could be held in contempt for failing to bring the dog to court as order by the court on two occasions.
In light of the possibility of going to jail for contempt, Tammy Lerch testified Monday that it was out of their hands since the humane society was broke.
“All we had in the humane society account was $76 so we couldn’t pay the bill,” Mrs. Lerch claimed, saying that without money to pay the vet bill, they couldn’t get the dog.
However, Curtis’s attorney, Michael Galligan pointed out that the Lerchs never asked PetMed about the situation.
In addition to not having the money, Mrs. Lerch claimed they didn’t want to hand the dog over to the local animal shelter.
“There’s been so much abuse at that facility that I wouldn’t take an animal there,” Mrs. Lerch testified.
In light of her reluctance to obey a court order, Galligan brought up a case from a few years ago in which Mr. Lerch was on the eve of going to jail for not returning a pair of Great Danes when ordered by then-Judge Larry Ross. The dogs were returned after it was claimed they had run away while being held by a group called Dames for Danes in the Mt. Juliet area.
“You’ve been in a lot of controversy on Facebook,” Galligan pointed out.
Mrs. Lerch defended her and her husband. “All we’ve done is give our hearts to Warren County,” she said.
The Lerchs were recently voted out of the humane society. A reason for their release has not been revealed.
Galligan says he plans to talk to PetMed about getting Curtis’s dog back once the paperwork is complete on the civil case.
“Hopefully they will be reasonable,” Galligan said.