Sleddog Rescue

After 12 years & 700 dogs, Sleddog Rescue is CLOSED.
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Last updated 04/17/2008

                    

NOTICE 12/28/07

Sleddog Rescue is closing 12/31/2007 because of the Eight Below lawsuit brought by William & Melinda Robinson and through their attorney, Michael Shipwash. 

After a year of this hideous nightmare, the Robinsons' attorney Michael Shipwash finally submitted to court "an agreed order to dismiss with prejudice" which means that after consultation with their attorney, the Robinsons AGREED TO DROP THE WHOLE THING.  They dismissed their lawsuit and gave up their right to sue over this again.  An official, "Oops."  

So we won.

But at a terrible cost to the forgotten Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies in Tennessee shelters.

What was at issue here?  The ownership of a dog we call Troika.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-8-107(c), a shelter may adopt any dog not wearing identification if the dog is not claimed by its owner within three (3) days. 

Undisputed Fact: Young Williams Animal Shelter (YWAS) admitted the Dog, who was not wearing any identification, on July 29, 2004. 

Undisputed Fact: Six days later, on August 4, 2004, its owner had not claimed the Dog.

Undisputed Fact: Sleddog Rescue lawfully adopted the dog at that time and named him Troika.

Undisputed Fact: Over four months later in December 2004, Sleddog Rescue adopted Troika (another dog Nikki) to Mike Alexander & Birds and Animals, Inc. who train animal 'actors' for movies.

Seems pretty straightforward, doesn't it?

The Robinsons & their attorney Shipwash didn't think so.   They claim that their dog went missing and that everyone "conspired" to whisk him out of the state.  They claimed this on television and named names doing so.

What did the Robinsons do when their dog went missing?

Not much from the looks of it.

In interrogatories, we asked the following questions: 

Did you look for your dog if in the local shelter (or any shelter)?
Did you post your dog's picture on the Lost Dog bulletin board 
there (or anywhere).
Did you make up flyers to post in pet stores or vet offices (or 
anywhere), or run adds in newspapers, or radio, or put up a sign in 
your front yard, or any damned thing.

They couldn't answer ANY of these questions, and in fact refused to even acknowledge our asking them.  Under Tennessee law, they had 30 days to answer our interrogatories and they just, well, they forgot, or their attorney did, or maybe they had some reason not to want to put the answers on paper.

They have nothing to indicate when, if ever, their dog went missing.  The only thing Melinda Robinson did say was that she often let her dog off his trolley to run at night for exercise. And that they waited for him to return because he always had in the past.

Our Troika was discovered almost 2 months after the date they claimed their dog went missing – a fact anyone could have discovered from our website.  Our Troika spent his legally required 3 days at the shelter as a stray, emaciated, riddled with parasites, and waiting for someone to come claim him.... And that no one did claim him for those three days, or the days to follow at the shelter, or the months to follow in rescue, or the years to follow since then. The shelter held him extra days trying to get him safely back to his owners or safely adopted. They worked hard to save his life even though the shelter was crowded. And after a week had passed and no one came forward, or even called, then the shelter had no choice but to place him on the euthanasia list. The realities of too many dogs and not enough space in area shelters mean that stray dogs have a finite time to be claimed. The Young Williams Animal Shelter (YWAS) stretched that time as much as humanly possible. They did everything in their power to save this dog and give him a chance.

The goal of breed-specific rescue groups like Sleddog Rescue is to save the forgotten. If ever there was a dog that was forgotten, it was our poor, pathetic Troika.  He had been abandoned twice -- once to the mercies of the streets and once to the realties of a crowded shelter. After his legal hold time at the shelter, Troika was the property of the shelter according to Tennessee statute. This is irrefutable and without question.  Melinda and William Robinson stipulated to this in court through their attorney, Michael Shipwash.  Yet...

The Robinsons claimed in their lawsuit that we all had an obligation to find his previous owners -- even though they weren't actually, or actively, looking for the dog themselves.  Did the shelter have an obligation to go door to door and look for his original owner when the owner couldn't be bothered to come look for him?

No. Of course, No.

Not only is Tennessee law very clear that owners who have a missing pet have an affirmative duty to go to the animal shelter and claim them.  But it seems a reasonable requirement. If they wanted him back, they would be looking for him.  If they wanted him back, they would have contacted the shelter.  YWAS has voice mail that says, Come to the shelter and look for yourself. The phone staffers are all trained in this. It is posted on the entrance door of the shelter. It is on their website prominently. They ask you to, Please, please, please, come and look for your pet .  They WANT lost pets to go home, that's part of their mission.

And afterall, shelter workers can't be expected to recognize every breed of dog and cat out there -- there are over 400 recognized breeds of dogs alone, who can know them all?  Volunteers can't be expected to know if the owners even have the right breed or color or weight over the phone. The owners must come and look at the dogs themselves. While there they can post pictures of their missing pet on the lost pet bulletin board.   

Please remember, no one had any way of knowing our Troika's previous owners since he had no microchip, no tattoo, no collar, no tags, and NO ONE WAS LOOKING FOR HIM, NO ONE was posting flyers for him, NO ONE was doing anything at all to find him. We could not have located the Robinsons if we were obligated to try.  Which we were not.  After his hold time, he legally belonged to the shelter that then legally adopted him to us.

Nonetheless, we advertised him relentlessly for four months. We did not hide him, we did not conceal his location. We were actively looking for a home for him.  We posted his picture all over the internet and Knox County  and Powell is in Knox Co.  If his original owners were looking for him, it's reasonable to assume they would have seen him. IF, that is, they were his original owners and IF they were looking for him.

Troika was featured prominently on the Sleddog Rescue website as available for adoption from August – December 2004. Troika was featured prominently on Petfinder as available for adoption from August – December 2004. It was not until December 2004 that Mike Alexander from Birds and Animals Unlimited found Troika and wanted him for a role in the movie Eight Below. 

Did we conspire to whisk him out of the state as the Robinson's claim?

No.

Let me repeat from above -- Four months.  Advertised heavily.

We put him in foster care less than an hour from their house for FOUR MONTHS. We put his sweet face in the local Critter Magazine adoption papers that go to area veterinarians (including veterinarians in Powell), we put his face on our own website AND on the national adoption website. What sort of "conspiracy" advertises a dog's face nationally for months on end?  And more importantly, how could Melinda and William Robinson have not found him if they had been LOOKING FOR HIM and if he were in fact their dog?

It was only after our Troika appeared in a big-budget Disney movie, that the Robinsons come forward and said, That's our dog, pay us money!  It took them over TWO YEARS to actively look for him (from their dog going missing in 6/04 to their lawsuit about our Troika in 7/06). But now they demanded return of "their dog."

And oh, yes, let's not forget the money.  They also wanted money, lots of money, buckets of money, unimaginable geysers of money.  Melinda and William Robinson merely demanded the entire profits from the Disney movie Eight Below -- $127,000,000.  For a dog they couldn't be bothered to go look for.

Did Sleddog see any "profit" from the movie Eight Below?

Hell, no.

In fact, once we got him healthy again from his sad life on the streets, we boarded him, treated him extensively for parasites, fed, housed, and cared for him for four months. Then we found a wonderful opportunity for him with a Hollywood animal trainer (the only one in the laundry list that the Robinson's did not sue). We got our standard adoption fee, which was about half his expenses while in rescue. But that's how rescue works. We are all unpaid volunteers and there are always more bills than donations or adoption fees. 

And yes, I want to emphasize the point, did the Robinson's sue the person who owned our Troika at the time of the lawsuit?

No. Strangely, they did not. By not suing the person who had 
physical possession/legal ownership of the dog they GUARANTEED that Troika could not be "returned" to them. We wondered if they decided not to sue Mike because they knew that it was not their dog and that the DNA sample that they CLAIMED TO HAVE would not match.  Or whether they simply really did not want their dog – if it was their dog – back.  A DNA sample, by the way, they claimed was on his collar.... a collar they claimed he was wearing with his current tags when he went missing....? 

And we spelled out on our website exactly who currently owned the dog, even though their attorney Michael Shipwash tried to later claim in legal documents that he didn't know and had no way to find out. Of course he knew, it was in the original story by WATE in June of 2004, the story Michael Shipwash created as a spectacular ambush. When asked by the reporter about the current ownership of Troika, Michael Shipwash stated that he had originally placed the animal trainer on the list to sue, and then felt he was an innocent bystander, so he then erased his name from the list. (original WATE story) It was also well documented in the special features of the Disney Eight Below dvd, which the Robinsons claimed to watch for close-ups of Troika. No, they just decided to sue the people who saved the life of this dog and the people who had money - Disney, Buena Vista, Spyglass (none of the latter ever owned the dog or hired the dog, but then they were the ones with the deep pockets.) 

Did the Robinsons EVER say thanks for saving Troika's life?

Well, no. actually, they did not.

Instead of saying, Thank you, but we want him back, they gave television interviews without even talking to the people they were accusing and they did it three days BEFORE they even filed a lawsuit. Classic ambush. 

Did their attorney Shipwash know the relevent statute and explain it to them before they brought suit?

Apparently not, as he didn’t know it before we provided it to him.

In amazement, we watched him in open court as he agreed with Judge Wheeler Ambrose that the statute was on point and further Michael Shipwash stated that the Judge could go ahead now and rule against him, because he knew the Judge was going to eventually. This appeared to surprise Judge Ambrose, I know it surprised our attorneys. The Judge then explained to Shipwash the procedure that needed to be followed to get an agreed order of dismissal. Seems Shipwash should have known that part, too. 

What is the cost of this admittedly inappropriate lawsuit?

Unimaginable.

William and Melinda Robinson and their attorney Michael Shipwash have done a great disservice to the homeless Malamutes and Siberians in Tennessee and the unpaid volunteers who give so tirelessly to these dogs. And they have done a great disservice to the their own future dogs, because the next time the Robinsons turn their dog loose to run at night and he doesn't come back.... who will save him then? 

In 2004, the year we saved Troika's life, Sleddog Rescue took in 104 Siberians & Malamutes.  In 2008, where will the next 104 forgotten sled dogs go?  

Was our Troika their dog that went missing June 2004?

I don’t know.  But it really doesn't look like it was ever the issue.   Two years after the fact, money was their issue.  

I want to say that I feel sorry for anyone who looses a beloved dog. It's heartbreaking, of course.  But how could we have reasonably known?  How could we have UNreasonably known?  They didn't put ID on their dog, and they weren't looking for their dog.  

The time to look for their dog was when he went missing, not TWO YEARS later. The time to say, "That is my dog," is when he's alone and sick and starving on the streets, not when he's a movie star. The way to show your true intentions is to get off your butt and go look for him, not to sue the people who saved his life.

Yours,
Sidney Helen Sachs
President of the former Sleddog Rescue, established 1995 & closed 2007

& Co-defendant, William & Melinda Robinson VS Young-Williams Animal
Shelter, Sidney Sachs individually, Sleddog Rescue of Tennessee, The 
Walt Disney Company, Spyglass Entertainment and Buena Vista Home 
Entertainment, Inc.

Thank-you, thank-you, and our deepest appreciation to our attorneys, 
Nannette Clark & Raymond T. Throckmorton III -- Nannette & Chip, 
you’re the best.

This website will forever dedicated to the forgotten Malamutes and Siberians in Tennessee who will not be saved because of 

William & Melinda Robinson
147 Whispering Pines LN
Powell, TN 37849

& to their attorney
Michael "I am not an ambulance chaser" Shipwash
9040 Executive Park Drive, Suite 315
Knoxville TN 37923

NOTICE 6/04

Sidney Sachs and Sleddog Rescue are being sued by people who claim that they owned the Alaskan Malamute now known as Troika. Troika received a great deal of publicity earlier this year at the release of Disney's "Eight Below."

Troika starred as Shadow in "Eight Below." Sleddog Rescue legally adopted Troika from The Young Williams Animal Shelter in Knoxville, TN after the legal waiting time of 72 hours. Troika was ill, severely underweight and available for euthanasia. The Robinsons are suing Sidney Sachs personally, along with Sleddog Rescue, Young Williams Animal Shelter, Disney, Buena Vista, & Spyglass Entertainment. 

If decided in the Plaintiff's favor, this case will effect the adoption of animals from all shelters and rescues in Tennessee and place obligations on rescue and shelters to actively search for the original owners. 

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