A bicoastal custody battle over a dog played out in San Pedro on Wednesday, with a judge tentatively denying a motion to have the pooch seized and returned to New York.
Sarah Brega, who moved to the port town from the East Coast, is being sued by her ex-boyfriend, Craig Dershowitz, 34, who wants the dog back.
Making appearances on national television shows and setting up a website - www.indiegogo.com/rescueknux - to collect donations for legal fees, Dershowitz said he's already spent $60,000 - the sum of his life's savings - in efforts to get legal custody of the dog.
Judge Peter Mirich in San Pedro Court decided to continue the case until June 19, after a June 6 jurisdictional hearing is held in New York on the custody issue.
Coveted by both Brega and Dershowitz is Knuckles, who is a "puggle" - a cross between a pug and a beagle.
Brega contends former boyfriend left the dog with her for a year after the couple split and is pursuing the issue out of revenge over the breakup.
Dershowitz says that arrangement was temporary, only until he could find a new place after their four-year relationship ended. The two had a general agreement to share custody, he said.
When Brega moved to California a few months ago, Dershowitz sued.
Arriving at the courthouse for the hearing - which played out largely behind close doors in an agreement reached between the attorneys and the judge in the case - Brega said she was confident the ruling would go her way.
Asked how much she loved the dog, she said, "A lot."
She had no comment following the court proceeding. Dershowitz did not appear but was represented by an attorney.
Because dogs are considered property under both New York and California law, Dershowitz claims Brega stole Knuckles.
Brega's attorney, Robert Splinter, said Dershowitz's lawsuit is "bogus."
"It's her dog," he said today outside the San Pedro courtroom. "He left the dog with her for a year, he gave the dog to her.
"She's absolutely frustrated," the attorney said of his client. "She doesn't want to be involved in this. She wants her dog and she wants to get on with her life."
As for the legal battle, Splinter said, "We didn't start it. We're going to protect our client."
In an interview on the "Today" show, Dershowitz said, "The most important thing to me is getting Knuckles back, and I'm gonna do whatever it takes."
Saying he bought Knuckles, Dershowitz called the case a simple "property dispute. It's a theft."
Brega, also in an interview on "Today," said the couple paid for the dog together and "we split everything 50-50 - day-care bills, vet bills."
Mirich recommended that the couple seek mediation to resolve the matter. Splinter said his client may be open to that, but added that working out a shared custody agreement when the parties live on opposite coasts could be difficult.
So for now, Knuckles remains with Brega in San Pedro, awaiting the June court hearing in New York.
In a written statement sent to the media earlier this week, Brega wrote: "My dog Knuckles is incredibly healthy and happy here with me. He's been with me his whole life.
"Craig gave up his one-half ownership when he left my father's home in Massachusetts and unconditionally gifted Knuckles to me. He said he knew Knuckles would be happier in a suburban setting."
The couple had moved into Brega's father's house to save money to relocate to California.
When the relationship ended and could not be reconciled, Brega left for California and Dershowitz, then living in New Jersey, filed his lawsuit.
The June 6 hearing in New York will determine whether the court there has legal jurisdiction for the lawsuit.
If that ruling is in Dershowitz's favor, the issue of sending the dog back will again be before the court in San Pedro.
If the New York ruling does not go in his favor, Dershowitz could then file an action in California, Brega's attorney said.
Dog "custody" battles aren't new. Divorce cases involving the custody of pets is on the rise across the country, according to the 1,600-member American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
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