Dog dispute unleashes odd tale of justice

January 30, 1996|By MICHAEL OLESKER

This is a story about a dog, which asks the question: Who gets possession of an animal's heart? But it ends with no answer, not from the dog's owner, nor her would-be owners, nor even the thinkers in the Anne Arundel County legal system, who seem to have been watching different cases unfold.

The dog's name is Maggie. She's a Bernese mountain dog who arrived here last winter and departed shortly thereafter, while everybody had their backs turned. Maggie was Nancy Bloom's birthday gift to her husband, Richard. They'd been scouting shows for about a year when they met a professional breeder named Sandra Hawkins, of West Virginia, at 5th Regiment Armory.

"Maggie was beautiful," Nancy Bloom says. "About 80 pounds, black and brown and white, 19 months old. We only had her for nine days, but we put our hearts into her."

"Maggie was a big event in our lives," adds Richard Bloom. "It doesn't take long to get very attached."

Bloom is an attorney. He had some legal work to handle in Ocean City, so he and Nancy asked a friend in Pasadena if he could watch Maggie for a few days. But the friend opened his kitchen door the first night, and Maggie bolted for parts unknown. The friend called the Blooms in Ocean City. Maggie's taken off, he said. There were woods by his house, and she'd run into them. It was 11 p.m. It was February. The Blooms got in their car and raced home.

For the next five days, there were search parties in the woods off Powhattan Beach Road in Pasadena, the Blooms, friends and family, other owners of dogs. An amazing thing, said Richard Bloom. All these people trudging through the cold, with flashlights at night, searching for a dog.

And still Maggie was lost.

The Blooms, frantic, called Sandra Hawkins. She immediately drove to Pasadena to help. Now the Blooms got a break: someone spotted Maggie in an open field near the woods. Sandra Hawkins went to the area and gave the Blooms instructions: Go to the other side of the woods and make sure Maggie doesn't exit there. Meanwhile, said Hawkins, she would go into the woods.

"We were thrilled," says Richard Bloom.

"We thought, we're finally going to get Maggie," says his wife.

Into the picture now comes Arnie Paskoff, a cousin arriving from Baltimore to offer help. He parked his car and was approached by Sandra Hawkins. She handed Paskoff a check to the Blooms for $650, which was the original price they'd paid for Maggie. Then she handed him a dog collar, which turned out to be Maggie's.

And she drove off before Paskoff realized what was happening: She'd taken the dog.

The Blooms called Hawkins in West Virginia. What are you doing, they asked. "I think it's better if the dog is with me," said Hawkins.

She didn't think the Blooms were responsible enough, or loving enough. The accidental nature of the escape meant nothing. The search parties meant nothing. Nor did the Blooms' declaration of love for Maggie.

To the Blooms, this was theft. They filed a criminal complaint, and when Hawkins showed up at a Baltimore Kennel Club show, they had her handcuffed and arrested. The case went to Anne Arundel County District Court in October, where Judge Michael Loney found her ...

"Guilty," Richard Bloom was remembering last week. He should know. He is, after all, not only the man who pressed charges, but an attorney himself.

"Guilty?" said Sandra Hawkins, when she heard of Bloom's remark. "No, no, the judge said not guilty."

"Not guilty?" said Bloom. "No, she misunderstood. She got a one-year suspended sentence, but she was definitely found guilty."

"Guilty?" said Sandra Hawkins' attorney, Bill Marlow. "No, no, she was found not guilty. I was standing right there. I'll bet Mr. Bloom a steak dinner at the House of Welsh it was a not guilty verdict."

"Not guilty?" said Arnie Paskoff, who was a witness and heard the judge's verdict. "No, it was guilty. With a $250 fine."

Such talk is mainly a matter of principle. The Blooms say they prosecuted not to get Maggie back from Hawkins, only to settle right from wrong.

"We didn't think Maggie would be able to take it, going back and forth," says Nancy Bloom. "Also, we didn't know if this woman would try to get her back again. And what effect that would have had on Maggie."

But we're still left with the question of legal guilt, for which we'll consult two officials who were there: Danielle Mosley, the assistant state's attorney, and Nancy Hirshman, director of the Mediation Center for the state's attorney's office.

"My recollection," said Hirshman, "is a guilty verdict. In fact, I'm sure it was a guilty verdict."

Oops.

"How do you like this?" said Hirshman, checking a computer list now. "Both sides are right. Hawkins was found guilty, but they filed a motion for a new trial and a revised judgment. On Nov. 15, the judge found her not guilty."

"They did?" said Danielle Mosley, the state's attorney. "I didn't know that. I wasn't there."

"They did?" said Richard Bloom. "I didn't know that. Nobody told me. Whatever happened between the trial and today, I don't know."

"I don't know if anybody was there from the state's attorney's office," Judge Michael Loney acknowledged, when told of the confusion. "I guess, with their volume of cases ... Yeah, I can make a judgment on my own. In a perfect world, they'd be there, and they'd communicate better with their witnesses, but ..."

But Loney changed his mind because, "There was no question of [Hawkins'] civil obligation to let [the Blooms] have the dog. But I didn't think there was criminal intent on her part. Every once in a while, you toss and turn over a decision."

So now, 10 weeks after the case was finally ended, everybody finally knows the verdict -- though nobody's entirely sure who gets possession of Maggie's heart.

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