When Craig Dershowitz, a New York City art gallery employee, and his girlfriend of four years, wardrobe stylist Sarah Brega, broke up in March 2011, they initially shared custody of Knuckles, their beloved Puggle (a Pug-Beagle mix).
But things got ugly last November.
Dershowitz claims Brega dognapped Knuckles (aka “Knux”) while he was in the process of moving to a new residence. In late January, he filed court papers with the accusation that she had “intentionally and maliciously taken unilateral possession and control of Knuckles and kidnapped him.”
Brega, who now lives in San Pedro, Calif., hired an attorney to represent her in what turned out to be a very costly custody fight.
At a court hearing in Los Angeles this morning, Judge Peter J. Mirich told the ex-couple’s attorneys that Dershowitz and Brega should settle their differences amicably, according to NBC Los Angeles. If they cannot, Mirich said he will step in next month and decide who gets custody. Until then, he ordered Knuckles to remain with his dog mom in California.
In his efforts to get Knuckles back, Dershowitz spent more than $60,000, depleting his life savings. He turned to the Internet to help him raise additional funds. Among the perks offered to those who make donations via his Rescue Knux website are everything from a “virtual smooch” for $10, to a game of fetch with the actual dog (assuming all goes well) for $250, to a personalized graffiti mural for $10,000.
“I don’t mean to insult people who have had terrible things happen to their human children, but Knuckles is very much, in my mind, my son,’’ Dershowitz said during an appearance on the “Today” show Tuesday in defense of spending tens of thousands of dollars on the dog. “We are connected on a very serious level.’’
Meanwhile, Brega said in court documents that Knuckles was doing just fine without his dog dad around. “Knuckles lives a happy and healthy life in California with me, where he has ample room to play, and lives in close proximity to a beach for off-leash dog-park outings,” she stated.
Brega said in a statement for “Today” that her ex is “using the courts and a fraudulent fundraiser to continue to harrass me. He is taking advantage of unsuspecting donors. Craig thrives on media attention and he is seeking it out in order to further his career while exacting revenge.”
Dershowitz pooh-poohed her allegations, arguing, “this is an expensive revenge, not something I want to do. I’m happy she’s moved to California. I just want Knuckles back here with me.”
When a couple breaks up, the law considers their pets to be personal property, no different than a piece of furniture. If there’s a dispute over who gets custody of the pet, the legal owner usually wins.
The legal owner is the person whose name is on the pet’s adoption certificate or sales contract, and who pays the veterinary and other bills for the pet. In the eyes of the law, it is of no concern whether the legal owner is the pet’s main caregiver or has any emotional attachment to the pet.
Although Dershowitz and Brega bought Knuckles as a couple two years ago, Dershowitz told “Today” that he paid for the puppy himself and became his prime caretaker. However, Brega stated that the couple paid for the puppy together and then split his veterinary and other expenses 50-50.
“The judge has already determined custody should be mine but all these decisions need to be certified and legalized (no, that is not the actual term) and I can no longer afford it on my own,” Dershowitz wrote on the Rescue Knux website.
He hoped to raise $20,000 on his website. Before he went on the “Today” show yesterday, he’d only collected $140, but as of Wednesday afternoon, the amount has risen to about $4,400.
PHOTO: Rescue Knux