Georgia Hart family in custody battle with dog breeder

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A joint contract allows the dog to be removed from the family.

ATLANTA — A Georgia family is looking for answers after a contract keeps their beloved emotional support dog in the care of a breeder.

The family sent their dog Gracie to the breeder while they were on vacation. And now the family says the breeder won’t return Gracie.

“She texted me and said she wasn’t going to give Gracie back because she felt like Gracie had been abused,” Sameca Hart said.

The Georgia family said they are now in a legal fight to get their dog back. But they lost more than their pet.

“My son immediately started bonding with her,” Hart said. “And it was less that she was his pup and more that he was her guy.”

Hart said his 11-year-old son has PTSD, a diagnosis that stems from a car accident that affected his facial features and his fledgling football career.

“She carpooled, she knew when she woke up in the morning it was time to get dressed and take her to school, her routine was her routine,” Hart Gracie said.

Hart said their dog also had a huge impact on her young adult daughter who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression.

“There was one time when she was having an episode and Gracie put her weight on her to make sure she didn’t get up and out of bed to hurt herself or fall. And even when she tried to away from the house, Gracie hovered over the front door,” Hart said.

But all of the love and support Gracie gave to the Hart family stopped after their vacation.

11Alive spoke by phone with the out-of-state breeder who expressed concerns about what she says are scars around Gracie’s neck that indicate an improperly used prong collar during training.

But the Hart family believe the marks stem from Gracie scratching her neck during repeated ear infections and an inflammatory skin condition. His treatment is cited in a 14-page medical file the family sent us from their veterinarian.

“I felt like it was a personal attack on my integrity because what you’re basically saying is that I’m abusing this dog that I consider my youngest child,” Hart said. “It made me feel awful because she’s spoiled rotten. She’s got a closet. She’s got a room of her own. She’s pampered, she goes to the spa when she’s at the vet. We literally do everything we we can for this dog.”

But the problem with getting Gracie back has to do with the contract the family signed with the breeder.

It is a co-ownership agreement which means that the family and the breeder own Gracie, even if the family bought her. The contract gives the breeder exclusive breeding rights and the right to use Gracie in competition.

It also allows the rancher to take Gracie back, which upsets the family.

“My daughter’s meds had to be recalibrated. Her anxiety is on high alert, her depression has been triggered. It’s been tough,” Hart said.

The mother-of-two said it changed their way of life in more ways than one.

“Now I can’t even leave her home alone because Gracie isn’t around. But I knew she was in good hands with Gracie around. I could run to the grocery store and grab a few business and come back right away. I’ve lost that freedom,” Hart said.

Attorney Tom Salata shared his legal perspective and said that since it does not appear that a crime has been committed, Gracie’s property becomes a civil dispute.

Salata said there are laws in many states that allow livestock and pet disputes to be brought to court. But he also says that based on the co-ownership contract, the breeder has the right to take the dog back if he thinks something is happening to the animal that may interfere with its reproduction.

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