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Legal battle continues over ownership of Kansas City-area championship show dog

Posted: 3:21 PM, May 14, 2024
Updated: 2024-05-17 17:24:18-04
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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Tucked away on a quiet wooded acreage in Kansas City, Kansas, dogs, cats,and pigs roam freely outside and in Dave Jennings and Emily McLeod’s home.

“They are all family,” Emily told KSHB 41. “Every individual animal is its own member of our family.

But one family member is missing -- their Cane Corso, Oscar. The champion show dog hasn’t been home in more than three years. His empty bed in their living room is a painful reminder of his long absence.

“We miss our family being complete,” Emily said. “I don’t even know how to describe it.”

At the heart of Oscar’s more than 1,200-day absence is an unprecedented legal battle over who legally owns the award-winning dog.

The canine court case, which went all the way to the Kansas Supreme Court, pits the couple against their longtime friend and Oscar’s breeder, Elizabeth “Betsy” Shauck.

It’s also a cautionary tale about the importance of getting all agreements in writing.

But the legal wrangling over Oscar’s ownership is now back to square one after a May 3 ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court.

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KSHB 41 News reporter Abby Dodge (left) interviews Dave Jennings and Emily McLeod, while Finn looks out the window.

'They asked us if we’d be interested in taking Oscar'

Oscar joined the couple’s family in October 2017. They say he was a gift – the second Cane Corso they’d received in two years – from their longtime friend Shauck and her late husband, Toby.

“They asked us if we’d be interested in taking Oscar because it was too much to manage at the house,” Dave said.

The friends met and bonded over their mutual love of dogs. Emily is an animal chiropractor, who helped with Shauck’s with previous litters. Dave is a human chiropractor, who pitched in, too.

Because of their long friendship, Emily and Dave said they didn’t get a contract when Shauck gave them Oscar or their female Cane Corse, Gracyn, as pets.

But they did agree not to neuter Oscar in case Shauck wanted to show him.

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'He didn’t ever do well on the road'

In early 2018, Shauck entered Oscar in his first show.

He won – and kept winning.

But Emily and Dave said competing at shows for weeks at a time started to take a toll on Oscar’s health.

“He didn’t ever do well on the road,” Emily said. “ He always got sick. He came home sick. He would give stuff to Gracyn.”

Despite their concerns, the couple said Shauck continued to show Oscar.

They say she took him to a dog show in Colorado in 2019, but didn’t bring him home. Panicked, the couple started looking for Oscar. Six weeks later, they found him at a dog show in Virginia.

“I went in with a leash, walked right in, opened the door (and) was like come on buddy let's go,” Dave said. “My biggest concern from then is just his condition. It made me sad. I have a dog that’s extremely thin. When we finally got him on a scale he’d dropped 15 pounds.”

Court battle begins over Oscar

This is the point when the couple’s friendship with Shauck unraveled and the legal battle over Oscar’s ownership began.

Dave and Emily fired the first round of legal salvos in 2019. They filed a lawsuit in Wyandotte County District Court asking the court to “issue an order finding title and ownership of Oscar rested solely with them.”

Shauck filed a counterclaim for, among other actions, a temporary restraining order for the “immediate return of Oscar.” She also claimed that Dave and Emily agreed to provide a “guardian” or pet home for Oscar.

The couple lost and “instead of ruling only on the motion for preliminary injunction,” the court ruled in favor of Shauck.

Emily and Dave had to immediately return Oscar.

“I mean, he just got ripped away from us,” Dave said.

“It was our hardest goodbye," Emily added.

Case heads to court of appeals

The couple, however, refused to give up and took their legal battle to the Kansas Court of Appeals.

They argued the lower court denied their due process rights by deciding on the merits of all issues in the case instead of just the preliminary injunction.

In an unprecedented decision, the Court of Appeals ruled that Dave and Shauck co-own Oscar and any decisions about his showing or breeding “must be made collectively.” The court also ruled that once Oscar’s show career is over, he “shall enjoy retirement with Dave and Emily.”

Although that decision came down in January 2023, Oscar still isn’t home.

“We literally pray that God will take care of him until he brings him home, every night,” Emily said.

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Kansas Supreme Court Hears Oscar’s Case

But the couple’s wait was far from over.

Shauck petitioned the Kansas Supreme Court – the highest court in the state – to review Oscar’s case. In November 2023, the Supreme Court agreed to that review without hearing oral arguments.

Six months later – on May 3, 2024 – the Supreme Court ruled both of the lower courts made legal missteps in Oscar’s case. The justices remanded the legal fight back to where it started – the Wyandotte County District Court.

LINK | Read the KS Supreme Court's ruling

“We are grateful for the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision reversing in part the Kansas Court of Appeals and remanding the matter to Judge (William) Mahoney for further proceedings,” Shauck’s attorney, Matthew Brooker, wrote in a statement to KSHB 41. “We believe that Judge Mahoney’s prior detailed factual findings and conclusion that our client Betsy Shauck was entitled to have Oscar placed in her care going forward and that she was the sole person entitled to make decisions about Oscar is supported by the evidence and the law.”

“Until further order of the District Court, Betsy retains the right to make decisions about Oscar so that she may ensure he is properly cared for as he continues to be an amazing representation of and ambassador for his breed," Brooker continued. "Betsy loves Oscar very much, cherishes her personal relationship with him, and has many fond memories of raising him with her late husband Toby before he lost his battle with cancer. ”

Brooker said Oscar is “healthy, happy, and continues to thrive both inside and outside the show ring.”

The attorney, who said he and his client “strongly disagree with many of the allegations made” by Dave and Emily, noted that Oscar is the winningest Cane Corso in American Kennel Club history. Oscar’s accomplishments include winning “Best of Breed” in the prestigious Westminster Dog Show in 2023.

On Wednesday, May 14, 2024, Oscar added to his trophy collection by winning the "Best of Breed" again, with the possibility of earning "Best of Show."

Kathy Musto (pink dress) handles Oscar during the 2024 Westminster Dog Show. Oscar, a Cane corso, won "Best in Breed" this year, his second-in-a-row.

'We have to stand in the belief that he’s coming home'

Emily and Dave said they’ll never get back the years they’ve lost with Oscar.

Or understand how their seven-year friendship with Shauck turned into a lengthy court battle about who legally owns Oscar.

“But we wish her the very best in all of her future endeavors,” Emily said. “And will forever be grateful for the two dogs she gifted us.

“We have endured 3.5 years of separation from Oscar, who is a beloved member of our family, as a result of a mistake at the District Court level," Emily said. "We are grateful for the decisions of the Supreme and Appellate Courts of Kansas, and for the opportunity to return to the District Court to have things made right.”

In the meantime, the couple said they’ll keep counting the days until Oscar comes home.

It’s now been more than 1,200

But they refuse to give up hope.

“I think we have to stand in the belief that he’s coming home because that’s what gives us hope,” Emily said. “Oscar turns seven next week and we plan to make the most of every year he has remaining.”

The couple also hopes Oscar’s story will become a cautionary tale about the importance of getting all agreements in writing – even among friends.

“None of this would have taken place,” Dave said, “had a contract with clearly listed out goals been written and agreed on by both parties.”