Calgary first responder and dog breeder battle over 18-month-old Australian labradoodle service dog

·7 min read

A 911 dispatcher diagnosed with PTSD after taking a call about a girl killed by a C-Train says she fears she may never see her service dog again amid a custody battle that raises questions over what it means to be an animal's "guardian."

Millie, an 18-month-old Australian labradoodle, is at the centre of the dispute between Hannah Greenslade and the breeder, Puppy Love Labradoodles, based in Cardston, Alta.

The issue is that Greenslade agreed to be Milllie's guardian, which is a designation somewhere between owner and foster parent.

According to several dog breeder websites, a guardian is someone who agrees to provide a loving home to a breeding dog, either a female or a male, until that dog's breeding obligations are fulfilled. Afterwards, the guardian is provided full ownership.

Usually a contract is signed, but in this situation, there was no formal contract issued or signed.

Rather, their agreement was made over several texts and evolved over time and now neither side can come to a common understanding.

Greenslade was diagnosed with PTSD in Oct. 2018 and says she got Millie in June the following year while at home on stress leave.

They've been apart now for more than three weeks while Millie is at the breeder's in Cardston.

"It's been absolute hell," said Greenslade, who has two other dogs but they aren't trained as service dogs.

"Millie wakes me up in the middle of the night if I have nightmares related to PTSD. So I wake up, she's not there, I have a panic attack."

Hannah Greenslade
Hannah Greenslade

Guardianship

One of the biggest benefits to being a guardian is cost. The guardian ends up paying far less for the dog than what an owner pays.

In Greenslade's case, she was not required to pay anything. She says she just had to pay for food, vet costs and anything not related to the breeding program. She was also to receive $500 after each litter to help offset those costs.

Greenslade alleges the owner of Puppy Love Labradoodles, Kelsie Payne, is reneging on that agreement.

Payne, however, argues that agreement was based on false information and says Greenslade is unwilling to find common ground.

"No one is happy about this," said Mathew Bullock, Payne's lawyer.

Payne spoke to CBC News with her lawyer present.

Litter debate

Both sides agree their original text agreement was for Millie to have four litters.

But shortly after getting Millie, Greenslade enrolled her in a PTSD service dog training program. She says she later learned Millie couldn't be registered unless she was spayed.

Certification would allow Millie to travel on planes and enter certain places that require the official designation.

Greenslade says that initiated several back and forth text discussions with Payne that eventually led the breeder to agree to limit the number of litters to just one.

Millie had her litter of nine pups last month.

Greenslade says it's time to return Millie but Payne won't release her.

Payne offers a different perspective.

She says she initially agreed to what she thought was "support dog" training as long as it wouldn't interfere with the breeding program and was assured by Greenslade that it wouldn't.

Then when Greenslade told her it was PTSD service dog training, she says she agreed to the training because she felt sympathetic to Greenslade's situation.

She says she then agreed to the one litter because she says Greenslade told her Millie needed to be fixed by the age of two in order to be certified.

If Millie had another litter she wouldn't be able to be fixed until she was over the age of two.

But Payne says she has since learned that Millie could be certified past age two.

Greenslade now says she was misinformed about the age limit.

Puppy offer

Payne says knowing Millie didn't have to rush out of the breeding program in order to be certified she says she suggested keeping Millie for one more round of breeding, to ensure the breeding line would continue, and then giving Millie to Greenslade.

But Greenslade says she declined the offer.

She says she finds it too hard to be apart from the dog. Each time Millie is bred, she must leave Greenslade for two months until the puppies are weaned.

Payne says she's also offered to give Greenslade one of Millie's puppies to start over.

"I know she has a connection with Millie and that's kind of why in trying to get what I need and give her what she needs I truly did think that it would be a good option for me to donate a puppy for her to start over, so that she could have that same bond with one of Millie's babies, I tried," said Payne.

Greenslade also declined that offer.

"That dog (Millie) has helped me through probably one of the worst times in my entire life and she can't be replaced by another dog," said Greenslade.

Dogs not easily replaced

Brian Archer is with the Citadel Canine Society, a national non-profit organization that provides trained service dogs, or access to trainers if they have their own dog, to first responders and veterans who are suffering with PTSD. Citadel Canine Society worked with Greenslade to train Millie.

Archer says he reached out to Payne to explain the seriousness of breaking off Greenslade's and Millie's relationship, but he says he wasn't able to convince the breeder.

"In general terms it is a really, really major step backwards," said Archer.

He says part of the magic of a service dog is that its connection with its partner can't be trained, so he says if you take that away, the individual has to start all over.

He says that has the potential to lead to dire consequences for the person suffering PTSD.

"For me, it's been both a little bit frightening but it's also been really annoying, because the last time, I checked common sense should kind of try to govern things," said Archer.

Would-be guardians have much to consider

The owner of Prairie Doodles, Gail Groeneveld, who also runs a guardian program, says these types of disagreements are rare but happen so she says it's important people know what they are getting into before they sign up to be a guardian.

"Know yourself, and just be like 'if I get a female dog, can I be without this dog for at least seven weeks, can I really be without the dog that long?'" said Groeneveld.

She says there's no question that dogs in guardian programs belong to the breeder until they are fully released to the guardian.

And she says its important people research the breeder and read over the contract beforehand.

"Don't rush into it, be willing to wait for the right dog, and the right breeder," said Groeneveld.

Business considerations

Greenslade says, based on texts from the breeder, she believes the issue is money. One text shared with CBC News talks about Payne losing $60,000 if they gave up Millie after one litter because of Millie's future breeding capabilities.

Payne says that $60,000 is based on Millie producing three more litters of about eight to nine pups each.

But Payne says it's not just about money, it's also about ensuring Millie's breeding line continues. She says it's too early to know whether one of Millie's current pups will have the quality of health and temperament needed to keep it going.

"If I only keep one puppy and then I spay Millie and that puppy does not pass that health testing then I'm out that line," said Payne.

Payne's lawyer says his client has done everything to try to ensure they can both be happy, and get what they want, but Greenslade has rejected their suggestions.

"Hannah has the opportunity to get everything she wants which is the dog, fully hers, get the registered ownership, and have Millie as a fully certified service dog, but she just has to have a little delayed gratification and allow that one more litter," Bullock said.

Greenslade says she is still considering her options. She has also retained a lawyer. Her family has started an online fundraiser to pay for legal fees. She says she has no plans to give up Millie.

"I really didn't want to have to even go through this route. I was hoping that she would have a change of heart and just give me the dog," said Greenslade.