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Video: Man spends $60K to get custody of dog

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    >>> back now at 7:42 with a butter custody battle over a dog. craig says his ex-girlfriend kidnapped his dog and he's waging an expensive fight to get that dog back. we're going to talk to him exclusively in just a moment. first nbc's mar were schiavocampo has details for us. good morning.

    >> good morning, ann. the adorable dog at the center of this dispute is named knuckles . dershewicz says he should be back here in new york , instead of in california with his ex-girlfriend. and she says he's lying and knuckles was a gift. now it's a cross-country war of the exes giving new meaning to the term dog fight . with floppy ears and a squishy pug face, craig dershowitz says knuckles or knuck for short, is so much more than just his best friend .

    >> knuckles is my son and i don't mean to come off as if he's more important than actual human child , but to me he is.

    >> reporter: but dershowitz , a new yorker, says he hasn't seen his pugle in many months, since his ex-girlfriend sarah brega moved away to california and took 3-year-old knuckles along.

    >> knuckles is part of my family. i was with him since he was 4 months old.

    >> reporter: they got knuck while still a couple says dershowitz , but there's no question, knuckles belongs to him.

    >> i bought knuckles . i actually spent the money, i was his care taker for the most part.

    >> reporter: so with knuckles 2500 miles away , now dershowitz isn't just sad, he's suing. in court papers filed in new york , dershowitz claims sarah breger has kidnapped knuckles .

    >> it's a property dispute. it's a theft.

    >> reporter: in the meantime, dershowitz insists the dispute's getting very costly. 60 grand and counting, he says. and it's wiped out his life savings. so, he's posted a rescue knuck video online , asking strangers to pitch in.

    >> he's just so loving and so sweet and warm. the only problem is my ex-girlfriend stole him. now this is my dog in every way imaginable.

    >> reporter: she vehemently disputes his account.

    >> we paid for the dog together. we split everything 50/50. vet bills, day care bills. everything was divvied up and split.

    >> reporter: after the breakup she says dershowitz left knuckles with her and her family for eight months. she says knuckles was an unconditional gift.

    >> he claims that he was trying to find a home for the dog. and i did take the dog to california . i didn't need to check with him, it wasn't his dog.

    >> reporter: she's fighting back in court to dismiss the case. brega says it's all about revenge.

    >> i don't think it's about the dog. i think it's about the fact that i moved on with my life, and moved to california .

    >> reporter: knuckles is better off with her, she says.

    >> he does feel like my son. i am his mom. i look forward to every day when i come home and see him. it is emotional, and i wouldn't be okay if i lost him.

    >> this is a simple case, will the facts show that this dog was actually a gift? ultimately, though, the judge will also look at what's in the best interests of this dog.

    >> reporter: it's a bitter case, but when it comes to who gets knuckles , it's also one of dogged determination.

    >> the most important thing to me is getting knuckles back. and i'm going to do whatever that takes.

    >> reporter: now the core legal question in this case is who actually owns the dog. unlike with child custody battles, animals are considered property under the law. ann?

    >> all right, mara schiavocampo, thank you so much. craig dershowitz is now joining us exclusively along with his attorney. good morning to both of you. craig let's start with this, what we just heard in this piece, that sarah is saying that you unconditionally gifted this dog to her.

    >> absolutely --

    >> do you have a response?

    >> yes, i did not. that's silly. when i moved back to new york and i was looking for a place to live, she held onto him while i found an appropriate apartment. and he was supposed to come back after that.

    >> she also told nbc news the documents you provided to prove sole ownership are without merit and she goes on to say that she paid the vet bills, she fed, sheltered and cared for knuckles since he was eight weeks old. and as you heard in the piece she said this is about revenge. it's not about a dog. it's about revenge for her breaking up with you. i'm starting to see why this relationship didn't work out. but would you like to comment on that?

    >> when i called the veto actually get the bills, as well as the doggie day care they didn't even remember her name. they're like, craig , of course, how are you? what do you need? so, if she paid the bills, i don't remember that. as far as revenge, this is an expensive revenge. not something i want to do. i've actually -- i'm happy she's moved to california . i just want knuckles back here with me.

    >> so how is this going to move forward? you want to weigh in, these are not, these are property laws we're dealing with.

    >> the law treats a dog as a what they call chattel, which is a property. it's like a pen or a watch, something of that nature. right now, the battle is being waged in two courts here in new york , as well as in california . and miss brega in the new york court really hasn't challenged the merits of the case. she's only challenged it on procedural grounds, claiming that new york is not the proper venue for the lawsuit.

    >> i think, you know, some people watching might say, this is much ado about nothing. however, we should mention there are a lot of animal lovers out there who feel as strongly about their pets as you and your former or ex-girlfriend do. i was curious, as you were watching the piece, craig , you said embarrassing. that it's embarrassing. is that the way you feel?

    >> i mean, i grew up with a lot of pride. and so to be out on tv pleading for money, which is what it looks like for a lot of people, just to have my name and my face out there on something of this nature, it's embarrassing. it's not something i did lightly. i just was forced to do it.

    >> you know, you, you talk about leading pore money, you're asking for people to contribute to your legal bills.

    >> yes.

    >> through the internet. there are a lot of great charities that people should contribute to. why do you think that they should contribute to you?

    >> absolutely, that's a great question. i'm looks just for small bits. and most of the donations so far have been $20 or less. and i think that give bigger charities to the places that deserve it. there's very important charities out there and i give every year, of course. but this is something that with just a small amount you can make a large difference.

    >> and if you could speak to sarah -- first of all are you in communications or all or no contact?

    >> no contact.

    >> if you could speak to her right now what would you want to say to her?

    >> just let's get over this, bring knuckles back. really there's nothing else going on. contact me however, through my attorneys, i just want knuckles home where you know he belongs.

    >> craig dershowitz and sean dweck

TODAY contributor
updated 5/15/2012 8:50:20 AM ET 2012-05-15T12:50:20

Embroiled in a legal battle over the custody of his dog, a Brooklyn man is offering everything from a $250 game of fetch with his beloved puggle to limited edition art pieces to raise money for his depleted legal fund.

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Manhattan art gallery employee Craig Dershowitz, 34, has already burned through $60,000 of his own savings in the cross-country court battle for the return of Knuckles, who is one-quarter pug and three-quarters beagle. Dershowitz’s ex-girlfriend, wardrobe stylist Sarah Brega, currently has the dog in her home in California.

Video: Man spends $60K to get custody of dog (on this page)

"He snores like an old man. His whole butt wiggles when he wags his tail. He is so loving and sweet and warm. He's incredible," Dershowitz says in a video that he's posted on a site he created to shed light on his case and raise money.

The couple dated for four years and broke up in March, 2011, but were sharing custody of "Knux" until November when Dershowitz claimed in court papers that she “kidnapped’’ the dog.

Dershowitz said he purchased the dog when the couple was together two years ago and grew very attached to him. While searching for a new place to live after the couple broke up, Dershowitz claims that Brega kept the dog when she was supposed to return to him after Dershowitz settled in a new spot. Brega has retained a lawyer to fight for custody of the dog in court in California and New York.

Video: Lost dog returns home—nearly three years later

“Knuckles lives a happy and healthy life in California with me, where he has ample room to play, and lives in close proximity to a beach for off-leash dog-park outings,” Brega said in court documents.

Dershowitz claims that his former girlfriend is deliberately forcing him to exhaust his limited resources.

“Obviously we dated many years and she knew my finances intimately, so she knew all the money I had was from savings and years of working two jobs,’’ Dershowitz told TODAY.com.

He appeared on TODAY Tuesday to dispel claims that he's doing this for revenge, saying "this is an expensive revenge; not something I want to do."

"(Knuckles has) been with me his whole life," Sarah Brega told TODAY in a statement. "It is unfortunate that (Craig) is using the courts and a fraudulent fundraiser to continue to harrass me. He is taking advantage of unsuspecting donors.

"Craig thrives on media attention and he is seeking it out in order to further his career while exacting revenge."

Dershowitz admitted that when Brega first kept the dog he contemplated stealing it back from her family’s home in Massachusetts but did not want to create any legal trouble and decided to take the high road.

“I don't mean to insult people who have had terrible things happen to their human children, but Knuckles is very much, in my mind, my son,’’ Dershowitz said. “We are connected on a very serious level.’’

'Free Knux'
To raise money for his legal bills, on his web site Dershowitz offers everything from “Free Knux’’ T-shirts to a $200 professional portrait of Knuckles to big-ticket items like a $3,500 wardrobe styling by a stylist friend of Dershowitz’s.

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“I have a ton of friends who are artists, so I wanted to provide something in every media of art that I could,’’ Dershowitz told TODAY.com. “Knuckles grew up with them. Some of them have crashed on my couch and he slept alongside them, or they have played fetch with them, so when I set up the website overnight, they all were willing to help out to get him back.’’

As of Monday afternoon he'd only raised $140, but believes at least one of every item will be sold as his story, which was first reported by The New York Post, gains exposure. His goal is $20,000 in order to defray his anticipated legal fees over the next two to three months.

Cross-country court battle
The legal battle over Knuckles began four months ago when Dershowitz filed papers on Jan. 31. Dershowitz said that a Manhattan court has already ruled that Knux should be in his custody but the Los Angeles Sherriff’s Department will not retrieve him from Brega’s home until a ruling is made in a Los Angeles court. Dershowitz said a hearing is coming Wednesday in Los Angeles where he is hoping the judge will sign a document that would allow the sheriff’s department to enforce the ruling from the New York court.

Video: 'I just want Knuckles back,' Brooklyn man tells TODAY (on this page)

“Best-case scenario, I get the [document] and I’m on an airplane before the end of this week,’’ he said. “The sheriff’s department would retrieve Knux, hopefully that day, and I would have him stay with a friend of mine out there until I fly out to take him back.’’

If that comes to fruition, Dershowitz will be happy to complete the transaction for anyone who has put in a payment on his webpage for a game of fetch or a smooch from Knuckles.

“It goes without saying that they can only play with Knux once he comes back,’’ Dershowitz said. “I have full faith that it will happen.’’

To learn more about Knuckles and see the items up for sale visit Dershowitz's website.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

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