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Dispute over ‘stolen’ dachshund reveals a dog could be legally yours after 72 hours

A dispute over a dachshund has revealed a legal quirk where looking after a dog for more than 72 hours could make it yours.

Last Saturday, Ben Mellor and Mckay McMillan returned home from a 21st birthday party to find their dog, Lyla, missing from their Frankton, Queenstown home.

Mellor and McMillan registered the dog with the Queenstown Lakes District Council after they found her apparently abandoned at a “friend of a friend’s” home in April. They said Lyla was in ill-health, underweight and timid.

“Her nails [had] grown over, and her anxiety was through the roof,” Mellor said.

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“We were only gone for five hours… and our door had been popped unlocked, and she was gone.”

The couple spent $85 on her registration and spend $18 on pet food a week. A purebred dachshund can cost up to $4000, however the couple did not pay for it.

Mellor posted on the Queenstown Missing Pets Facebook page on Sunday that Lyla had been stolen.

A reply came from Clayton Latta: “Umm you guys stole her from me in the first place… You never rescued her. I was in Auckland and came home to no dog.

Mckay McMillan took Lyla from a friend of a friend's home in April, claiming she was in ill health.


Mckay McMillan took Lyla from a friend of a friend’s home in April, claiming she was in ill health.

“[You’re] not getting her back so give up she wasn’t yours to take in the first place.”

The dog is understood to now be with Latta’s former partner, Natasha McCrostie. She appears to be the dog’s second owner and previously registered it with the Central Otago Regional Council – but the registration had lapsed.

An ownership dispute has ensued, with Mellor and McMillan saying they are willing to go to court to get Lyla back.

Determining who owns the dog may require it.

Queenstown police, the Queenstown Lakes District Council and the New Zealand Companion Animal Register (NZCAR) – which issues microchips – all say responsibility to determine the dog’s owner does not fall on them.

A Canterbury Community Law spokesperson said the law states neither registration nor microchipping is proof of who owns an animal.

The Dog Control Act defines an “owner” not just as the person who owns a dog, but someone who has a dog in their possession for more than 72 hours.

“Essentially, there is no single definitive proof of who owns a dog, so if they cannot agree between themselves, a court would need to make a decision.”

Owners are required to register the dog, so someone looking after a dog could be required to register a dog they do not own.

“Normally, if you abandon something, you give up any property rights to it. If someone then found the dog, and was unable to locate the owner, then they would be required to register it with the council as being in their care,” the spokesperson said.

Ben Mellor with Lyla at the Queenstown waterfront.


Ben Mellor with Lyla at the Queenstown waterfront.

But if a previous owner could show the court the dog was stolen, and then registered, the dog would likely be returned to its original owner.

In a dispute, a microchip under a person’s name would be a strong indicator they were the owner, they said.

Lyla’s microchip has been linked on the National Dog Database to McCrostie and Mellor at different times.

“Often it comes down to the word of one against the other,” the Community Law spokesperson said.

Queenstown police found Lyla and were investigating.

Ben Mellor and McKay McMillan are desperate to get Lyla back

Olivia Caldwell/Stuff

Ben Mellor and McKay McMillan are desperate to get Lyla back

“To whom a pet is registered would potentially form part of those inquiries,” a spokesperson said.

While the Dog Control Act states the previous and new owners should give written notice to the council of a change of ownership within 14 days, each council has their own dog control policy and bylaw.

A change of ownership form at the Queenstown Lakes District Council requires both parties to sign. However, Mellor filled in a new dog ownership form because Lyla’s registration was with a different council – and it had lapsed.

Christchurch City Council requires information of both parties online, but no signature, just a tick of a box.

McCrostie could not be reached for comment.

A Queenstown Lakes District Council spokesperson said: “Any dispute over ownership of a dog is a civil/police matter.”

NZCAR said it could not legally determine ‘ownership’ of an animal. “In event of an ownership dispute about an animal, we advise the parties to get legal advice, talk to the police, SPCA or, in the case of dogs, talk to their local council,” general manager David Lloyd said.

The SPCA said ownership disputes were a police matter.

McMillan and Mellor were upset Lyla was taken.

“We never go out without Lyla, she always comes with us, but we had a 21st, we couldn’t take her,” McMillan said.

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