A bitter three-year court battle for custody of a dog – between the man who bought the puppy and the woman he hired to walk it – could soon be going to Ontario’s court of appeal.
Greg Marentette hired Samantha Roberts in 2016 to look after his dog, a Newfoundland named Lemmy, when he was at work. But the relationship eventually soured.
Roberts has had possession of the dog since Aug. 2019, after refusing to return it to Marentette when he wanted to take it on vacation.
“I can’t live life without him,” said Marentette, who has already won two judgments ordering Roberts to return the dog. “It’s so up in the air right now. I don’t know what’s going to happen and it’s so troubling. It’s three years of my life flushed down the toilet because of worry and depression.”
Roberts’ lawyer filed paperwork Wednesday seeking to appeal, for a second time, an order to return the dog. After losing in small claims court, Roberts appealed in divisional court and lost again. She now hopes to take the case to the Ontario Court of Appeal. She has obtained, also for the second time, a stay of the order to give up Lemmy pending appeal.
Both combatants claim they own the dog.
“This is a very sad situation for Greg,” said Joseph De Luca, Marentette’s lawyer. “A dog is property. It’s not a child custody case. But it’s something that obviously is an emotionally fraught situation.”
Roberts’ lawyer, Andrew Colautti, said she spent more than $8,500 on food, veterinary care and toys under the impression she co-owned the dog.
“Most importantly, Mr. Marentette explicitly agreed to allow my client to train Lemmy to be her medically necessary service animal,” he said.
Marentette bought the dog for himself for similar reasons.
In a 2013 motorcycle crash, he suffered three broken vertebrae, a dislocated hip, concussion and broken femur. He was “basically immobile” during the two years it took for his femur to heal. During that time, his mother died. He said he developed depression and PTSD.
His doctor suggested a dog might help get him off the couch and deal with his depression. Marentette bought the dog in March 2016 and named it Lemmy after the founder of Motorhead, one of his favorite bands of him.
He paid $1,200 and signed a statement promising to return the dog he wanted if he decided he would no longer have it. The issue never came up.
“He was amazing,” said Marentette, who has spent about $20,000 in legal fees trying to get Lemmy back. “It was like he could read my mind, he was so smart. Every day around noon he’d be barking. It’s time to go for a walk. He got me outside every day. After two years of being in the house, the only reason I would go outside was to take him for a walk. I have ended up becoming my co-pilot in my car. He went everywhere with me.”
After returning to work, Marentette decided to hire a dog sitter so Lemmy wouldn’t be caged up all day. He agreed to pay Roberts $30 a day and gave her a key to get into his house from her, according to court documents.
Colautti said it’s true Roberts was hired as a dog sitter. But that relationship changed and her client eventually had Lemmy at her house overnight for five or six days a week, he said.
Roberts claims that Marentette could no longer afford to pay for her services, and offered to “share” or “co-parent” Lemmy.
“Our position is that Mr. Marentette granted my client an ownership interest in Lemmy, such that they jointly own Lemmy,” said Colautti. “As a result of that, my client proceeded to spend thousands of dollars caring for Lemmy, and Mr. Marentette consented to my client training Lemmy to be her service animal for her.”
Deputy Judge Kristen Hales didn’t see it that way. In a written decision dismissing a counterclaim from Roberts, Hales stated that despite Roberts’ assertion of her “the dog was destined to become her sole property of her,” Marentette “staunchly denied” she was to have any ownership of Lemmy.
“As time went on, it appears that the Defendant took advantage of the Plaintiff’s good nature when it came to when she had Lemmy in her care, until the parties each had the dog about half the time,” Hales wrote.
In August 2019, they had a falling out.
Marentette called Roberts and told her he was taking Lemmy on trip.
“She actually said ‘no,’” said Marentette. “I said ‘I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. He’s my dog.’”
Roberts told Marentette she’d taken Lemmy to an “undisclosed location” and planned to seek legal custody.
Marentette then launched his small claims lawsuit. He also went on Facebook and called Roberts a “thief.” She countersued him for $25,000 for defamation and dog-related expenses. The countersuit has been dismissed.
In the last three years, Marentette has seen the dog once, in a courtroom on the first day of the small claims hearing.
“He immediately noticed me, started crying and whining and barking,” said Marentette. “I was on the stand talking and he wouldn’t stop crying. It was extremely traumatic. It took everything I had not to bust out crying.”