Service dog subject of custody lawsuit

Image 1 of 11

An eleven-year-old black standard poodle named Livy is caught up in a custody battle between the Pennsylvania-based companion dog company that raised and trained her, and Hernando County Commissioner Diane Rowden.

"This is her forever home," Rowden said while sitting outside their Weeki Wachi home. "To take her back and then have to retrain her with somebody else, they couldn't do that."

Livy has been a part of the Rowden family even since her original owner, Bruce Hicks, died in 2013.

Hicks was a paraplegic and bound to a wheelchair. And in 2007, he signed an agreement with Canine Partners For Life for possession of Livy as a companion dog, according to a complaint filed in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

For six years, Hicks and Livy were inseparable, until July 2013 when Hicks broke his leg. That accident put him in hospice care until his death that November.

Less than a month before - in September - Hicks named the Rowden's in his will.

"He asked me, actually in September if I would - if something happened to him - if I would take Livy and I would take care of her," Rowden explained.

Of course, she said yes.

Weeks later, the company sued Hicks' estate and named Diane in the lawsuit.

It says, "Ms. Rowden has unlawfully taken possession of Livy without right, consent, or authorization and has continued to do so despite repeated demands by Canine Partners for the return of Livy."

And because the initial 2007 agreement said that Livy, "shall be returned to CPL promptly following the death," of Hicks, Livy must go back to Pennsylvania.

"I'm not going to do that," Diane said. "I made a commitment to a man on his death bed that I was going to take care of his baby."

An appeals court recently dismissed the Rowdens from the lawsuit, but the company is still going after Livy and Hicks' family.

"Bruce's cousin has probably spent about $20,000 in legal fees," Diane said.

Since Livy is eleven years old, and a vet diagnosed her with an anxiety disorder and arthritis, Diane questions why CPL would want her back.

"They won't even say what they will do with her," she said. "All they have to do is say, 'look, you know what? We'll go away. You go away', and we'll be real happy."