This tiny dog was lost and adopted. Now it’s at the center of a custody battle

Rosemary Alec Nygard

After bolting from her family’s Cameron Park home earlier this month, a tiny pup named Rosemary somehow wound up 40 miles away at the Sacramento County animal shelter.

Alec Nygard was thrilled to discover, a few days later, that his “baby” was in custody at the Bradshaw shelter. But by then it was too late for a reunion. She had been claimed on the adoption floor by another family, and the new owners had no intention of surrendering her back to him.

Now Nygard, 20, is waging an emotional custody battle that is playing out on Facebook and other social media.

“I just want my Rosie back,” said Nygard, who has launched a protest petition and a GoFundMe account to raise funds for legal help in the case. “There are millions of dogs that need loving homes. Rosemary already has one. She belongs with me.”

Nygard said he has had Rosemary, a Chihuahua and miniature Doberman mix who weighs less than 4 pounds, for 16 months. “She’s so cute and adorable,” he said. “I bottle fed her. She sleeps with me at night. I feel that she’s an old soul who understands when I’m sad. Whenever I need her, she is there for me.”

While Nygard was at work on April 4, he said, Rosemary escaped the family home. He contacted neighbors and nearby shelters, and posted fliers and pictures on Facebook. Four days after her disappearance, an animal advocate contacted him and said Rosie was at the Sacramento County shelter. “It’s so far away,” Nygard said. “I never thought to look there.”

On Saturday, Nygard said, he left a phone message at the Bradshaw facility that was not returned. He drove to the shelter at his first opportunity, on Tuesday, and spotted Rosemary in a kennel. “She ran up to the glass and started hopping up and down,” he said. “It was heartbreaking.”

Shelter officials said the dog had arrived at the facility without an ID tag or microchip. A “good Samaritan” had picked her up after seeing her running in traffic, said shelter director David Dickinson. “We had no owner information,” he said. So, after a required 72-hour holding period, they placed the dog for adoption on Saturday and someone quickly claimed her.

Dickinson said Nygard was unable to show proof that he was the dog’s owner, and that he became “disruptive” and disrespectful toward shelter staffers who told him they had a binding contract with the unnamed adopters that could not be reversed. They asked Nygard to leave the premises. He did so, then took to social media to tell Rosemary’s story and implore the dog’s new family to return her to him.

Nygard’s Facebook post had been shared by more than 600 people as of Thursday afternoon, and an online petition demanding Rosemary’s return had more than 1,200 signatures. Nygard said he “will not give up” and is contemplating organizing a protest at the county shelter.

Dickinson said his staff has contacted the dog’s new owners and told them Nygard’s story, but the family has “fallen in love” with the animal and has refused to give her back.

“We conducted a transaction that included fees and signatures,” he said of the adoption contract. “At that point, the dog became someone else’s property. Legally there was nothing else we could do.”

Such disputes are hardly rare, Dickinson said. “They happen six to 10 times a year,” and about half the time the new owners agree to allow the original ones to reclaim their pet, he said.

The lesson for pet owners? “Everyone needs to understand the importance of microchips and identification tags,” Dickinson said. “If this dog had come in with any kind of ID, we would have kept her for 10 days” and the custody dispute might never have happened.

Cynthia Hubert: 916-321-1082, @Cynthia_Hubert