A landmark dognapping case has ended in triumph for the owner of a dog who was stolen in Seattle, Washington.
After a beloved dog was stolen and shaved to conceal her identity, her dognapper harassed the dog’s owner online for eight months. On December 17, the verdict was finally announced in this dog theft case: the defendant is guilty – and she has been ordered to pay $27,000.
Animal law attorney Adam Karp contacted Seattle Pets Examiner with the news that Judge Marc Barecca had made a decision in this groundbreaking case.
This is the first case I have handled where we not only found the stolen animal companion, but identified the thief and held her responsible.
The use of electronic/digital evidence and the early implementation of pre-service subpoenae allowed us to ‘triangulate the liability signal.’
The story of Nahla the missing dog resonated with animal lovers worldwide. After Nahla went missing from in front of Kate’s Pub in Seattle, Washington on Sept. 27, 2012, her owner, Mary Wolfe, never stopped looking for her. Along the way, fellow animal lovers, including Seattle Pets Examiner, worked to help Mary find Nahla.
Over the many months, Mary searched tirelessly, wondering: Who had her dog – and would she ever see her again? Today, not only are Nahla and Mary reunited, but they’re victorious in their civil court case, as well!
This groundbreaking case made history not only for finding the missing dog and successfully suing her dognapper, but for the courage and tenacity of those who worked to find Nahla, as well.
Attorney Adam Karp stated: “Few clients have the talent and stamina (and supporters!) to sleuth the way Mary, Dori, and Laurie did.”
Mary Wolfe – and those who tried to help her – were harassed via email, Facebook, and on Craigslist. Some Craigslist posts stated: “Welcome to Maryslist (Hell).”
One Craigslist post stated:
“I hope every troller on this site comes after you, I hope whoever has your dog keeps it, takes pictures of it Happy WITHOUT YOU. I hope you get hit by a car and no longer have use of your ﬁngers.”
Another post stated:
Dear mary, I just wanted to let you know that nahla is in a good home, she has fallen in love with her new family and has became my 12 year old sons best friend…
…I will not post pictures of her as I dont feel you deserve so see her. And you will never get her back she is in a safe loving family home on 5 acres and has forgotton about you.”
The post added: “You can continue looking for 100 years or more if thats what suits your fancy but by law she is my dog and we love her more the words she is a very good sweet girl and has even learned to shake, I hope you learned your lesson.”
But there’s a funny thing about the Internet – everything is traceable.
And everything was traced.
Interestingly, many different aliases from email “tips” that Mary received all originated from the same IP address. Many of the harassing posts on Craigslist also originated from that same IP address. Several email accounts were deleted on the same day, leading Mary – and the investigators working on the case – to believe that they were all connected.
Who was on the other end of these harassing messages?
They were traced back to a man named Craig Davison – a man who is Facebook friends with Chris Riley.
Karp stated: In my opinion, based on the objective information before me, I believe that Craig Davison, friend of Chris Riley, conspired to deceive, defraud, and harass Ms. Wolfe across state lines and become an accomplice after the fact to the theft of Nahla.”
During his ruling, Judge Marc Barecca stated:
The evidence compels the conclusion that Riley took Nahla from in front of Kate’s Pub, knowing she had no authority to do so, and knowing that Wolfe was Nahla’s lawful owner. And, contrary to a suggestion made by Riley at trial, the dog recovered from Riley was indeed Wolfe’s Nahla.”
During the search for her missing dog, Mary was inundated with frightening, threatening emails and messages – but she was undeterred. In June of 2013, more than eight months after Nahla’s disappearance, Mary finally found her missing dog in the possession of a person named Chris Riley – a person who was at the pub when Nahla disappeared.
And now Mary has found justice, as well.
Judge Barreca continued: “Riley testified that she found Nahla at her workplace in the SoDo area of Seattle, many miles from Kate’s Pub, during a smoking break from work approximately a month after Nahla went missing from Kate’s Pub.
“Her testimony was not credible. Riley testified that when she found Nahla she was dirty and skinny, and that she had an eight to ten foot rope around her neck. Dreger, Riley’s co-worker and friend who was at Kate’s Pub with her on the evening of September 27, 2012, was called to testify — apparently to buttress Riley’s story that she had found Nahla at work.
“However, in Dreger’s version of the story, the dog had no collar and no leash and no rope. The Court cannot harmonize the glaring inconsistency of these accounts.”
The judge continued: “Here, the Court concludes that Riley wrongfully and maliciously took Nahla from outside of Kate’s Pub without just excuse or color of right. The Court further concludes that Riley took Nahla with the intent to keep Nahla as her own pet, thereby depriving Wolfe, Nahla’s rightful owner, ofowning Nahla.”
This much-anticipated case, which went to trial on Sept. 29 and 30, was seen in the court of bankruptcy court of Judge Marc Barreca after defendant Chris Riley filed Chapter 7.
During the trial, attorney Adam Karp discussed how Mary was traveling from Alaska to her home in Colorado in Sept. of 2012. Mary chose to go by car instead of flying, as she felt that it was better for her dog, and was staying with friends in Seattle. After Nahla went missing, Mary tirelessly searched for her dog – sacrificing sleep, employment opportunities, and personal relationships along the way.
Animal rescuers Dori Henrickson and Laurie Potter saw Mary’s pleas for help online. They supported Mary’s search for her missing dog by tracing the IP addresses – and ultimately discovering the identity of – the people who were harassing Mary online as she tried to find her dog.
Laurie Potter, who assisted with tracing IP addresses, found an address on Vashon Island and drove out to that home in May of 2013. She called out to see how many dogs were there, noting that several dogs were barking. She also noted that the house had an unusual appearance.
“The house was all boarded up – the French doors, the windows, all blocked with cardboard,” Potter recalled during her testimony.
Armed with this information, Mary flew from Colorado to Washington hoping that her dog was at that home. “She went near the residence and sat in front of it, disguised with a blonde wig, scared to death that she’d be found and that the dog would be moved,” Potter recalled. “Then she sees her dog – she knows her dog – and she goes berserk.”
Mary called the authorities, which took Nahla from the residence. Nahla and Mary reunited in the police car after an almost nine-month separation. Mary and Nahla were both very emotional about finally seeing one another again, but Mary saw that Nahla’s thick, beautiful coat had been shaved – perhaps in an attempt to disguise the dog, who has unique coat markings and an unusual appearance.
Riley did not try to resist when the dog was taken – and she never tried to get the dog back.
Katherine Campbell, the owner of Kate’s Pub, testified that she knew Riley and that she had a credit card receipt from Riley for Sept. 27. The receipt had a time stamp of 8:35. She also had a credit card receipt for Sarah Dreger, Riley’s boss, with a time stamp of 8:36.
Adam Karp subpoenaed Sarah Dreger to produce credit card statements for transactions on Sept. 27-28, 2012. Dreger produced one card, but redacted out the entire account number.
Chris Riley testified that she had no recollection of the night in question. The defendant had previously stated under oath that she had not been at Kate’s Pub on the night of Sept. 27, 2012. During the trial, however, Riley stated that this was a mistake that her prior attorney had not rectified.
Sarah Dreger also testified that she had no recollection of Sept. 27, even though Riley and Dreger cashed out from Kate’s Pub one minute apart that night. Neither Riley nor Dreger has any recollection at all of their whereabouts on Sept. 27.
“Miss Riley’s assertion is that even though she was there that night, to which she has no recollection – nothing – of any interaction with my client or the dog at issue, presents to you an unrefuted point: the allegations of what transpired that night are not disputed,” Karp stated in September.
Judge Barreca stated: “Several factors lead the Court to infer Riley’s intent. First, Riley was unduly evasive regarding her patronage of Kate’s Pub on the night Nahla went missing. Only when pressed did she admit that it was possible she was there. Dreger was similarly evasive.
“The total lack of memory of both witnesses is highly suspicious, especially in light of the fact that their credit card slips link them to cashing out at the bar at right around the time Nahla went missing.”
Riley testified that the dog that was in her possession on June 3, 2013, was not the same dog that had gone missing from Kate’s Pub. She stated that she found the dog in front of her work on Oct. 22. Dreger testified that she also saw the dog in front of the office that day.
The judge stated: “Riley’s story regarding finding Nahla at her workplace was facially implausible and further undercut by Dreger’s conflicting details regarding the lack of a collar and an eight to ten foot rope.
“Riley knew that Wolfe was searching for Nahla. She even inexplicably ‘liked’ Wolfe’s ‘Help Find Nahla’ Facebook page.
“Finally, Riley’s actions following Nahla’s disappearance were consistent with the actions of someone who was trying to hide a dog. She took Nahla to a veterinarian approximately 500 miles away, and then failed to license or microchip Nahla, despite the fact that she licensed and microchipped her other dog. Riley knew that she was depriving Wolfe of Nahla and knew that Wolfe was actively searching for Nahla.”
During closing arguments in the September trial, Karp outlined the improbability of Riley’s scenario.
“Which is more probable? Undisputed evidence shows that Miss Dreger, along with Miss Riley, were at the pub, cashing out within one minute of each other,” Karp stated. “They left the pub within minutes of the dog being taken, and the dog was then found in the defendant’s possession at her home on Vashon Island on June 3, 2013.
“Or is it more probable that the dog simply went missing, and then for 26 days was on her own trailing throughout the streets of Seattle, working her way past Lake Union into the Georgetown District, where she just happens to appear in front of the defendant’s workplace just when she’s coming out for a break?
“What’s the more likely story?”
Riley’s attorney, Kim Sandher, countered: “As we’ve seen, Chris Riley, a Good Samaritan, took in a lost dog that clearly looked liked it needed a home during the rainy, cold winter season. Assuming that this is the same dog that the plaintiff left tied up outside of a bar…Miss Riley spent nine months of her time and money caring for this animal…and she hasn’t once asked for compensation.
“She fed it, took it to the vet, spent countless hours caring for it… instead of being grateful, the plaintiff is accusing her of stealing this dog in hopes of getting paid. She found the dog outside of her workplace, took it home to care for it, and returned it as soon as someone came forward to claim it.”
Sandher added: “Caring for a stray animal is not a wrongful act.”
But stealing an animal is.
The judge’s final verdict? The Court concluded that Mary was entitled to a total of $27,000 in damages.
Please click “subscribe” to be one of the first readers to see the next update that’s currently in the works. You can also follow along on Facebook and Twitter!