Tiny dog Rosemary, subject of custody dispute, back with original owner

Rosemary, the tiny dog that sparked an outsized custody battle, has reunited with her original owner.

Alec Nygard of Cameron Park reclaimed his pooch on Friday afternoon at the Sacramento County animal shelter, where the canine wound up after escaping from her family’s home on April 4. Days later another family adopted her, prompting Nygard to launch an emotional media campaign to get her back. The campaign went viral, and on Thursday the adoptive family contacted the shelter and agreed that the dog should return to Nygard.

“Rosie! Oh, Rosie!” Nygard, 20, cooed as shelter workers placed the dog, a Chihuahua and miniature Doberman mix weighing less than 4 pounds, in his arms. A quivering Rosemary glanced at a bank of cameras documenting the scene, then began licking Nygard’s face.

“I am so grateful,” Nygard said, cuddling the squirming pup. “This is what we were fighting for!”

Bolting from her family’s home while Nygard was at work, Rosemary somehow ended up at the Sacramento County Bradshaw Animal Shelter about 40 miles away. Nygard said he phoned the shelter as soon as he learned, through a social media contact, that she was at the facility. He said he drove to the shelter on Bradshaw Road at his first opportunity, on Tuesday, and saw Rosemary in a kennel.

But staffers told him she now belonged to someone else. Rosemary had no identification when she arrived at the shelter courtesy of a “good Samaritan” who picked her up off the street, said shelter director David Dickinson. So, after holding her for the required 72 hours, the facility put her up for adoption and someone quickly claimed her.

Nygard turned to local news media and Facebook, calling for Rosemary’s return. The campaign prompted hundreds of “shares” and responses. A petition demanding that he regain custody received more than 1,200 signatures. Rosemary’s supporters launched a GoFundMe page to pay for potential legal costs. Nygard was talking about organizing a protest.

Then, on Thursday night, Nygard got a call from a blocked number. The caller was the woman who had adopted Rosie. She queried Nygard about his relationship with the dog, he said, and seemed to be gauging whether he was a responsible, loving pet owner. Afterward, she agreed to bring the dog back to the shelter.

Dickinson said he gave the adopter, who wanted to remain anonymous, Nygard’s contact information and encouraged her to call him. “She told me that she, herself, had once lost a dog and had been devastated,” he said.

With Rosemary safely in his arms on Friday, Nygard, who had to pay $129 to reclaim his pet, said he wants her story to be an impetus for change. Among other things, he said, he wants shelters to extend holding periods for unidentified dogs so that their rightful owners have time to find them.

“When it comes right down to it, the family that adopted Rosemary shouldn’t have been put in this situation,” he said. “I should not have been put in that situation.”

Rosemary’s saga “has been one of the biggest learning experiences of my life,” Nygard said. He now firmly believes that all pets should carry identifying microchips under their skin.

Thanks to her shelter stay, Rosemary has one. She also received spay surgery at the shelter.

Cynthia Hubert: 916-321-1082, @Cynthia_Hubert