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.
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.
"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.
“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.’’
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.
“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.
“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.