OVERLAND PARK, Kans. — A man fighting for the return of his late wife’s service dog encountered a setback in his case in a Maryland courtroom on Thursday.
The central issue of the court battle is the question of who owns the service dog, Tootsie.
Although a judge did not rule on that matter, he decided the sheepadoodle should remain with Starfleet Service Dogs, Inc. until a trial is held to determine the final outcome in the case.
Paul Marinsky’s late wife Brittani got Tootsie from Starfleet in May 2019 to help her manage daily life with a chronic illness. Brittani Marinsky died in Aug. after a battle with stomach cancer. Before she passed, she asked Paul Marinsky to promise that Tootsie would stay with him.
The couple paid monthly fees of $140 to Starfleet for a wellness plan for Tootsie. In the nearly two years the couple had the dog, Paul Marinsky said he and his late wife spent thousands on training and care.
However, during Thursday’s hearing, a judge pointed to the fact that Starfleet had initially purchased the dog for $800 from an online ad.
There was no receipt showing the Marinskys paid a lump sum to purchase or adopt Tootsie.
An attorney for Starfleet said in court the Marinskys did not pay thousands for training. Rather, the monthly fees were only for reimbursement for vet care and insurance for Tootsie. The attorney also said the Marinskys did not always pay those bills on time.
In her argument, the attorney leaned on the fact that Tootsie’s microchip was registered to Starfleet, which is why the dog’s vet called the organization and arranged for her return.
In his decision regarding possession, the judge did not weigh in on whether or not Starfleet’s taking of Tootsie was lawful.
Starfleet’s attorney said when the dog was picked up, she “had sores all over her body,” was unbathed, had overgrown toenails and an ear infection.
Paul Marinsky has rejected those allegations and said he took Tootsie to the vet because she was having ear problems.
Although the judge decided Tootsie should remain with Starfleet for now, he acknowledged ambiguities in the paperwork Brittani Marinsky signed.
“I wish the contract was clearer,” Judge John Moffett said Thursday morning.
Sean Day, Paul Marinsky's attorney in Maryland, argued Tootsie had graduated with his wife from Starfleet’s program. One of the documents Brittani Marinsky signed said that Starfleet was “willing to accept responsibility for graduated service dogs in the event of a graduate’s death.”
Day says that language in the contracts implies Tootsie became property of the Marinskys.
However, Starfleet’s attorney countered by saying the dog's graduation did not trigger an ownership transfer. She argued the phrase being questioned for its ambiguity was required by the Assistance Dogs International (ADI).
ADI is the worldwide authority that sets standards for service dog programs. Starfleet Service Dogs is not an ADI accredited member, nor is it a candidate program.
During the hearing, the attorney for the Starfleet confirmed Tootsie is in Maryland at this time. Although the judge indicated his preliminary belief Starfleet is likely to prevail, Paul Marinsky and his attorneys plan to keep fighting for the sheepadoodle’s return.
"I can't just walk away and let things be as they are without trying to do the right thing for myself, for my late wife and for Tootsie," Marinsky said in a previous interview with the 41 Action News I-Team.
Paul Marinsky's attorney said the hearing will strengthen his case before trial, since the judge didn't point out any weaknesses in their argument.
A trial date has not yet been set.
This article was written by Cat Reid for KSHB.