Canine custody dispute in Aspen
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
ASPEN ” Custody battles can turn ugly, even when the loved one in dispute walks on four paws.
On Wednesday in Pitkin County Court, Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely mediated a dispute over Will, a 5-year-old cairn terrier allegedly belonging to Caitlin Langford, 17, of Aspen.
Langford’s father, Bryan Charles Langford, was told by a property manager that the family couldn’t keep the dog in their affordable-housing unit near Aspen Highlands in December.
Langford looked to friends to take care of the animal, and in the end gave the dog to a longtime friend, Bayless Williams.
That’s where the confusion arose.
Langford said the arrangement was temporary until he could find a way to accommodate the dog; Williams said Langford gave him the dog for keeps.
Fernandez-Ely was not able to rule on the case because she had received a call from Williams, a close friend, about the matter. She offered to pass the case on to a judge in Glenwood Springs, but both parties agreed to have Fernandez-Ely mediate.
Langford estimated the cairn terrier mix was worth as much as $1,000, but he was not looking for money from Williams; he just wanted the dog back, he said.
Days after Williams began taking care of the dog, Langford said he became suspicious that there was some miscommunication, and said he was unable to get in touch with Williams.
Meanwhile, as the days turned into weeks, Williams and the dog bonded.
“He asked me if I’d like the dog and I said ‘yes,'” Williams said, adding that the plan was for a short trial period after which Williams could keep the animal.
“He fit in perfectly,” Williams said, and today the dog sleeps by his head each night. “I’ve had the dog for three months and I’ve totally bonded with him.”
“I’ve had the dog for five years; he’s 100 percent my dog,” said a distraught Caitlin Langford.
Williams, however, said he could offer the dog a better life in a house with a large yard near the Aspen Art Museum. And the dog spends most days with Walter Voight, socializing with locals and customers at Voight’s carpet shop near Mill Street, Williams said.
Langford said the dog has gained weight and was better off living with him and his daughter and, that with him, the dog regularly walks up Smuggler Mountain.
Fernandez-Ely suggested shared custody, saying that the dog is obviously loved by both the Langfords and Williams, and she asked if Williams would be happy with a replacement.
Langford offered to drive to a shelter in Boulder to find Williams a comparable dog to replace Will. (There are few small dogs at the local shelter, according to Langford.)
In the end, Fernandez-Ely dismissed the case subject to an agreement that the dog lovers share custody of the dog on a weekly basis.
Langford has a six-week window to find Williams another dog before he and his daughter can have the dog back full-time, and Langford agreed to give Williams the first right of refusal should he ever decide to give the dog up.
“I think Will has two great homes,” Fernandez-Ely said.
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