Florida woman ordered to share custody of her dog with neighbor in lawsuit
A bitter battle between ex-neighbors over ownership of a 100-pound dog has resulted in a Solomon-like decision by a Florida judge awarding shared custody rights to both parties.
Tina Marie Walker, of Madeira Beach, adopted Elario, a playful 4-year-old black Labrador retriever mix, in 2016, Fox 13 Tampa reported.
But for the last five weeks she’s been sharing custody of the pooch with David Somerville, her former next-door neighbor, according to the station.
"And I don't understand it because in the state of Florida, a dog is property," Walker said. "He's licensed to me. I paid for the dog."
Somerville took Walker to court claiming he should be awarded sole ownership because he's been Elario’s main caretaker, paying for the dog’s food, vet bills and toys, the station reported.
The court record shows that their friendship took a bitter turn when Walker had Elario microchipped and put the registration in her name. Walker then kept Somerville away from the dog, prompting the lawsuit.
The shared custody arrangement was worked out by Pinellas County Small Claims Court Judge Lorraine Kelly, who said in a March 8 ruling that it was in the best interests of all concerned.
“Both parties have health considerations that quality time with Elario makes better. Both parties have spent a great deal of time with the dog and witnesses say he shows great affection for both of his humans,” she said.
Elario now stays with Somerville every other weekend from Friday to Tuesday under a schedule worked out by the judge.
Walker told Fox 13 she took care of Somerville, a Vietnam vet, after he had lung cancer surgery.
“I loved him, for two-and-a-half years I took care of him,” she told the station. “So I don’t understand this at all. I’m betrayed, I’m broken-hearted, my dog is split up.”
Walker is appealing Kelly's ruling. She said that she has been forced to move.
Fox 13 reported contacting Somerville, who declined to be interviewed on-air.