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Tuesday, November 12, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Family dog at the center of a legal storm


Marcia and Rich Graham from near Marshall, Wash., lost their dog Harlee, a 2 year-old Pomeranian, in July. The dog was later adopted out by SpokAnimal C.A.R.E. to a new owner who refuses to return the dog. Marcia, holding Harlee's collar and leash, carries them in her car in hope of getting her dog back. 
 (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Marcia and Rich Graham from near Marshall, Wash., lost their dog Harlee, a 2 year-old Pomeranian, in July. The dog was later adopted out by SpokAnimal C.A.R.E. to a new owner who refuses to return the dog. Marcia, holding Harlee's collar and leash, carries them in her car in hope of getting her dog back. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Marcia Graham just wants her dog back.

She’s had her black Pomeranian’s collar and leash in her car for months, waiting for the day she would be able to bring Harlee – the dog she bought for her daughter Laura’s birthday two years ago – back home.

“I thought that we had lost him to coyotes,” Graham said. “But to know he’s alive and out of reach is very hard.”

Now she realizes finding the dog was just half the battle. With the help of University Legal Assistance at Gonzaga, she has filed a lawsuit in Spokane County Superior Court to recover Harlee from a man who adopted him from SpokAnimal C.A.R.E.

Harlee went missing July 17 after wandering away from Graham’s rural Spokane County home near Marshall. Graham said she posted signs in the neighborhood and contacted animal shelters, as well as posting a notice in the Cheney Free Press and several online lost-and-found sites, including a Web site run by SpokAnimal.

She also repeatedly contacted Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Society, which provides shelter service for animals found in the county.

On July 29, a county resident named Jolee Wilke found Harlee and brought him to SpokAnimal, which provides shelter service for the city of Spokane, according to Graham’s suit.

Though a SpokAnimal employee initially said the shelter could not take a dog from the county, SpokAnimal ended up taking Harlee, telling Wilke the dog would be turned over to SCRAPS.

Instead, the suit claims, SpokAnimal immediately accepted a deposit for Harlee, who was given up for adoption Aug. 1.

“They never came here, and they never ran an ad,” SpokAnimal director Gail Mackie said of Graham and her husband, Richard Graham.

By city ordinance, Mackie said, an unlicensed dog that is in custody for 72 hours becomes the property of SpokAnimal. “The dog was here the appropriate amount of time.”

On Sept. 3, Laura Graham learned from Wilke’s daughter, who was an acquaintance, that Harlee had been turned in to SpokAnimal. The next day, the Grahams contacted the shelter, but a SpokAnimal employee could find no record of a black Pomeranian.

But Wilke called a SpokAnimal employee who she was certain would remember the little dog. The employee told her Harlee had been adopted by someone in Spokane.

On Sept. 8, SpokAnimal informed the Grahams that it had attempted to recover Harlee, but the new owner refused to give him up.

“They said there was nothing they could do if he won’t give the dog up,” Richard Graham said. But he had caught a glimpse of the new owner’s name on the SpokAnimal computer screen.

“Just his first name and the first two letters of his last name,” Richard Graham said.

There were 26 entries in the Spokane phone book for James No…,” Richard Graham said. He and his wife had seen a photo of Harlee taken in his new owner’s front yard, and they began searching the city for that yard.

By chance, the first address they tried was the home of James Notti.

When the couple entered the yard, Harlee sprang into Marcia Graham’s arms as Richard knocked on the front door.

The Grahams say Notti would not discuss ownership, and sternly ordered them off his property. He also was apparently unmoved by two letters from the Grahams saying how important the dog was to the family and offering to compensate him for his expense in acquiring and caring for Harlee. They also offered to buy him a replacement Pomeranian.

Notti never responded. Nor has he returned calls from a reporter seeking comment.

Notti apparently is an animal lover; at least someone with that name was listed as a member of the Spokane Humane Society in 2005.

In her lawsuit, filed on Oct. 30, Marcia Graham accused SpokAnimal of breach of its duty and acting outside the scope of its authority in selling the dog. But the Grahams have not taken legal action against the shelter.

They are hoping Notti will do that, after he is forced by the court to turn over the dog.

“There hasn’t been a second since we found out where Harlee was that we thought about giving him up,” Richard Graham said.

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