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Dog Custody Battle Creates Uproar
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 19, 2007 07:53 AM
Joanne Williams wants her aged golden retrievers back and can't understand why a local rescue group won't return them.
Her Chandler home is filled with photos of 9-year-old Dugan and 8-year-old Jake. Her eyes well with tears when she talks about the dogs she raised from puppies - and about the personal tragedy that led her to relinquish them.
Williams, 39, lost her only child last August five months into the pregnancy. There was a funeral and burial. Her relationship with the baby's father crumbled; she spiraled into severe depression. In October Williams contacted Arizona Golden Retriever Connection at the suggestion of a friend. By Dec. 2 and while she was under a doctor's care for post traumatic stress disorder, Williams gave up her pets to the group. advertisement
She immediately regretted the decision and three days later asked for them back. She said the group's president, Candy Ziemer of Scottsdale, agreed to return the dogs then changed her mind and stopped returning calls.
In desperation, Williams found the foster home where they were being kept and begged the woman, Phoenix resident Sheila Anderson, for Dugan and Jake. She refused.
Ziemer and Anderson declined to talk to The Arizona Republic, citing a lawsuit Williams filed in Maricopa County Superior Court in February to get her dogs back.
Representatives of three other rescue groups and Maricopa County Animal Care and Control say they are puzzled why aged pets wouldn't be returned to a caring owner after such a short time. Normal practice would be to give back the dogs so long as they hadn't been abused or neglected, representatives from each of the other groups said.
Letters from veterinarians submitted to the court said Williams took excellent care of her pets. She walked them daily and took them on special trips to dog parks and state hiking trails.
"I'm their mom; they need to come home," she said.
Arlene Blouch, of Phoenix, western regional representative for the Golden Retriever Club of America said she tried to intervene on Williams' behalf and convince the local group to return the dogs.
"I don't understand why they weren't returned, but we have no jurisdiction," she said, "I tried to talk to them and asked them to reconsider."
Stefany Smith, founder and executive director of Southwest German Shepherd Rescue in Phoenix, said it's difficult for aged dogs to adapt to new surroundings.
"Large breed dogs have an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years and it's not easy to place older dogs," she said. "I don't know the motivations of this rescue group, but unless they have a good reason for not returning (Williams') dogs, I don't understand it."
Brian Frederick, spokesman for Scottsdale-based Desert Labrador Retrieve Rescue, said his group has returned surrendered dogs to owners and even helped one deal with allergies.
Two officials from Maricopa County Care and Control said they were surprised the rescue group is refusing to return Dugan and Jake.
"If they have no proof of wrongdoing or abuse, I can't see why they wouldn't give the dogs back," said agency spokeswoman Aprille Hollis.
Linda Soto, county animal shelter division manager, said the county frequently returns dogs and cats to owners who surrender them so long as they pay minimal impound and surrender fees.
Williams said she offered to make a donation to the Arizona Golden Retriever Rescue Connection and has spent more than $14,000 on legal fees. Last month, Superior Court Judge Robert Miles declined to order immediate return of the dogs and no date has been set for trial.
A neighbor and former Arizona Golden Retriever Connection president Linda Arters is trying to help and has set up a Web site: Bring Home Dugan & Jake
"I can't believe people can be so cruel," said Arters, who is no longer a member of the rescue group.
Williams said she's grateful for the support.
"Dugan and Jake and I would walk along the green belt. We'd go to Desert Breeze Park and Ahwatukee and up to Scottsdale on the weekends. That was my life. It was their life," she said. "These past few months have been horrific."
The following businesses help sponsor this heartless group. Follow your conscious . . .
• Southpaw Fine Photos
• H & R Block
• Phelps Dodge Corporation (Debbie Ban)
• Stewart Title & Trust of Phoenix
• B&G Equipment Company
• Hills Pet Nutrition
• Rose America Corporation