Couple Fighting Animal Society Over Puppy

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(Memphis) They are calling it "Operation Bring Stewie Home."

A Memphis couple says the puppy they love was unfairly taken away by a rescue society.

It’s caused both sides to lawyer-up, and and now they may battle it out in court.

The couple only wants one thing under their Christmas tree -- Stewie.

“We are sad. We miss him a lot,” said Shaina Guttman.

The kennel is empty and the dog toys have been abandoned, ever since their little black lab was taken away.

Problem is, Stewie was never really their dog.

“We filled out an adoption application,” said Lee Lakey.

Shaina Guttman and Lee Lakey fostered Stewie for months through the Desoto Animal Rescue Society, also known as DARS, and were on the road to adopting.

“We were told once he was neutered, it would be finalized,” said Lakey.

They say DARS picked up the dog on December 2nd for neutering, and then wouldn't give him back.

“They wouldn't return our calls or emails. They wouldn't speak to us at all,” said Guttman.

“The only thing they would say every time I asked them was 'It was just not a good fit,'” said Lakey.

Both sides got lawyers, and two weeks later, Shaina and Lee got some answers.

The couple got a letter from DARS explaining five reasons they were unfit, including that they left their dog out for hours at a time on their balcony.

The couple says that is completely untrue.

“It’s very confusing and upsetting at the same time,” said Lakey. “We still don't have any clue as to why, other than the false allegations.”

The attorney representing DARS tells WREG that the animal society can keep Stewie if it wants because Stewie is legally its dog.  

Lee and Shaina were only fostering the pup.

It sent us a statement saying "due to concerns surrounding Stewey's well-being, DARS felt it was in the best interest of the dog to be back in our care."

“Their main goal is to find a home for a puppy or kitten or any animal that is in need and here we are. We have a perfect home and we love him,” said Guttman.

The couple knows they can adopt another dog but it won’t bring Stewie home for Christmas.

“We love Stewie.”

The couple plans to take the Desoto Animal Rescue Society to court sometime in January in hopes a judge will let them get Stewie back.


  • Cindy

    Desoto animal people are horrible horrible people ..this couple loved Stewie so much …and they were great to him. How dare the so rescue. So can t oughta be ashamed of themselves

    • Mary McCuller

      Everybody is certainly entitled to their opinions but shouldn’t they be informed opinions? There are two sides here. We’ve heard one but not the other because they probably have been advised not to fight this out in social media. These people save animals who have been abused, neglected, discarded and abandoned, many by people some of you would judge as good, decent people. Are any of you willing to step into their shoes and save the animals that need saving should they succumb to all this hateful backlash, from trying to do the right thing for their animals, not for the people who want to adopt them, but for the animals themselves. Who’s going to step up, because let me tell you, there are way more animals that need rescuing out there than people willing or able to rescue. So I challenge every one of you who has made an uniformed negative comment to go to your local shelter and rescue a dog or cat.

      • Stacie

        They are TRYING to adopt a dog and are not being allowed to… this comment makes no sense… and many of us (myself included) have rescued several pets in our lifetime…and yes we are entitled to our opinions…

  • kitkatceo

    DARS is NOT a horrible group. Their goal like all rescues is to rehabilitate & re-home animals with the best fit and well being for the animal. Most people assume that just because you fill the application out and you want the animal, that it’s guaranteed yours and it’s not. Most animals that come into these rescues are just that…rescues, dogs & cats that were abandoned & neglected and constantly left alone and outside and have specific needs. If you want a sign, pay, & take it animal, go to the shelter. Rescue dogs require a bit more commitment & assurances that the animal will be placed in what the rescue feels is the right home.

    • Stacie

      They need to find a better fit for their management team, used to be great and has recently fallen to the wayside. Several long-term volunteers have left the group due to political maneuvers. I think what rescues do is amazing. They help the community. This instance, however, does the opposite. It hurts the couple and the dog. It’s a shame. Poor Stewie should be given the voice DARS claims to give animals and let him go back to his loving family.

  • amber

    Yeah they are just so awesome that you have to be under more strict regulations to have a dog than you do when you have a kid. My home is a good home. I have a daughter that my home is perfectly fit for yet not good enough for dars. Child safety locks already because of my daughter and everything. But still not good enough for. They are no experts. Will never adopt from them, will go somewhere better.

    Another thing. Does nature provide houses with ac and heat and everything dars says houses need for animals to live there? No. Why? Because is their natural habitat. Only because they were domesticated do we have them as pets. You don’t see nature doing half the things we humans do for them, and they have survived this long. I don’t know, maybe there is some invisible vet and house that only animals can see and go to so that nature isn’t sued or ridiculed for being so horrible. I say this because if they had their way, no dog would be allowed to stay in a backyard when provided adequate housing and needs.

  • Lisbeth

    The animal adoption agencies set their own criteria for adopting the animals. Some require fences, some require that the animals be indoors, etc. From this news report it appears that there is no yard, a very small fenced in balcony type patio, a tiny crate for a lab! The people wanting to adopt seem like very nice people but they probably aren’t the best match according to the agency criteria. Fostering is temporary and doesn’t really apply.

  • Tami

    Sounds like a huge miscommunication, where’s the documentation/evidence Stewie was a foster not an adoption? When DARS “took” him how come they didn’t communicate he would not be returned to the couple after his procedure? I guess that’s where the lawyers come in to dispute the case… People own dogs in apartment ALL the time and they get walks around the complex, dog park, etc. by the owners and/or a pet sitter/dog walker. I’ve personally met Stewie and spent several days/hours with him! He’s a very fun loving puppy with no signs of aggression or past history of trauma! He gets along great with other dogs and loves car rides! The Guttman/LAKEY household is filled with love and two people that want the dog they raised to be returned home!

  • Stacie

    There is a DARS volunteer who lives in the same complex and fosters and owns several pets. There is a dog run that is fenced in that the dogs can play in all day long. The dog was just fine (more than fine, super happy and had many friends!), he was taken care of very well and was very loved. Who knows how often the pup is now taken out for walks or even out of a crate at all. I don’t mean to bash any rescues, not even this particular one, but this situation is so unfair, uncalled for, and just WRONG. The pup should be returned to the home he grew up in for months. If there was any concern, why did it take DARS so long to address is in the first place? Funny how they never checked in or had a care in the world until December, the pup was put in the couple’s care back in September… As stated all over social media, Stewie shouldn’t have been fostered in a situation that was unsafe or unfit (and he wasn’t), and after all the paperwork and the in-home visit, not to mention the relationship the DARS rep had with the couple, it was deemed a safe fit for Stewie or else he never would have been left in his care. It is ridiculous that it has come to this, just bring Stewie home!

  • Mary McCuller

    Stacie do you have facts to back up your statements? If not, then maybe you should check out the libel laws. I think when the whole truth comes out, many people will be called to task for their libelous remarks. I would certainly encourage this group to pursue this. I don’t know the facts but I know the group well..I don’t know the people involved on the other side of this matter, but I’m certainly not calling them names and disparaging their reputations because I don’t know the facts.

  • Errin

    I used to foster for Dars 10 years ago and stopped because I simply did not have the time to devote to my foster dogs. Their group as I remember is not the same as I remember due to politics. The volunteers that were there are pretty much gone and some have gone on to form other rescue groups of their own in Desoto/Nw Ms counties. While I applaud ALL rescues for what they do, I have to ask the question..if the home was deemed unsafe now, why wait until it became neutered to take it then say “Sorry, you’re unfit.” Doesn’t make sense. We tried adopting a cat from Dars years ago and they said my 5 year old daughter who has been raised around cats and dogs was too rough w/the animal. She was excited to see the cat, maybe a little over-loving at best. No home visit..nada!!! Yes, labs can live in apts if they are given adqeate exercise, otherwise they would not be allowed to live as service dogs in apt complexes. I also have to wonder, why is that volunteer allowed to foster and not this family. Isn’t her facility just as bad as what Dars claims? I pray that Stewie is returned and I would NEVER adopt from Dars.

  • Nonya Bidness

    DARS now says they are unfit… What that says is that DARS puts dogs into unfit homes for fostering. Is sounds like DARS is holding out on this couple for a kick-back. I bet if they were making monthly contributions to DARS they could get any animal they want.

    • Mary McCuller

      Wow, such hurtful things to say about an organization that saves lives and without a shred of evidence to back up this statement. I know for a fact and any rescue group can back this up, that on average, much more money is spent getting a dog healthy than is recovered in adoption fees, one flat fee which doesn’t vary according to the dog or adopter. I don’t know how many dogs and cats DARS has in foster homes right now, but you have urged people not to adopt them. Are you willing to foster them until they find homes? What do you think should happen to them?

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