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Aye Chihuahua! Dog’s domain remains Indiana, appeals court rules

November 5, 2013

Sofie, the black-and-white Chihuahua-rat terrier mix, stays in Indiana, the Court of Appeals affirmed in a canine custody challenge.

Despite finding clear error, the panel rejected an appeal by a former Indiana resident who now lives in North Carolina and sought to use a protective order to claim custody of Sofie in Heather Herren v. Jerry Dishman, 18A04-1304-SC-162.

Jerry Dishman received Sofie from a former girlfriend, the record shows, before he and Heather Herren began an on-again, off-again relationship that included a period of incarceration for Dishman during which Herren cared for the animal.

Herren later moved to North Carolina and Dishman followed, but he soon returned to Muncie with Sofie. Herren claimed Dishman threatened her, and she obtained a protective order after he left that granted her “the care, custody, and control of any animal owned, possessed, kept, or held as a pet by either party."

Herren traveled to Indiana and presented the order to Muncie police, who went to Dishman’s home and retrieved Sofie, who returned to North Carolina with Herren. Dishman sued in small claims court and was granted an order of replevin returning Sofie, which the COA affirmed Tuesday.

On appeal, Herren argued that the court failed to extend full faith and credit to the North Carolina protective order and that it erred in denying her motion to dismiss. Judge Patricia Riley wrote that the court did err and demonstrated a manifest abuse of discretion by refusing to admit the protective order as evidence.

Despite those errors, though, the small claims court got the decision right, Riley wrote.

“Herren does not dispute the small claims court’s finding that Dishman never gave ownership of Sofie to Herren,” Riley wrote in a decision joined by Judges James Kirsch and Margret Robb. “We conclude that the small claims court clearly erred by failing to accord full faith and credit to the out-of-state Protective Order, but because Herren neither owned nor possessed Sofie at the time of the Protective Order’s issuance, Herren is not entitled to custody of the dog.”


 

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