Couple’s split unleashes dog custody battle
It would have been easier on their dog if Fairfielder Laura Brennan and Tara Michalowski had gotten married.
But the Quinnipiac University graduates didn’t, so it was up to a judge to decide — now that the couple had split in the aftermath of an alleged infidelity — who got custody of their beloved Shih Tzu named Captain.
“It was a case of a woman’s scorn,” said Brennan’s lawyer, Christine O’Sullivan. “Just because they are both women doesn’t mean she couldn’t be scorned.”
After awarding Captain to Brennan, state Superior Court Judge William Rush lamented that “unfortunately, this decision will not resolve the controversy” that exists between the plaintiff and defendant.
“If they were married, there would have been a myriad of things that could have been done so that each of them could have had time with the dog through family court,” O’Sullivan said. “But here, the judge could only decide who should get the dog and he decided for my client.”
That a marriage contract would have made a difference is the only thing Michalowski’s lawyer, James Coyne, agreed with.
“If they had been married, the dog would have been treated like any piece of property — like a painting on a wall — not that a dog is like a painting in a divorce settlement,” Coyne said. “But in this case the court is not set up to split up personal property.”
Coyne, however, said he believes the judge picked the wrong “parent” in this case and said he will ask Rush to reconsider his decision.
Brennan and Michalowski met in 2007 and by the winter Brennan had moved into Michalowski’s Wallingford home, according to court testimony and documents.
In 2010, Brennan’s mother got her the tiny Shih Tzu puppy. The couple picked up the small dog after Brennan had reimbursed her mother $350 for the dog. Brennan named the dog Captain in a nod to her mother’s dog, Morgan.
But the couple broke up in February 2011, with Michalowski alleging Brennan had been unfaithful to her, O’Sullivan said.
Each woman would later testify before Rush they couldn’t bear to part with Captain and they tried to work out an agreement to share him.
“I had Captain with me virtually every night from when I got off work until the next morning, when Tara would keep him during the day,” Brennan testified.
Captain was popular with the clients at Michalowski’s insurance agency. His photos are posted on the agency’s Facebook page. There’s one of Captain “typing” at a computer, another of him purporting to explain policies with a red ball in his mouth.
But the arrangement went south when O’Sullivan claims Michalowski saw Brennan kiss another woman.
The day after the smooch, the pooch was gone.
In Captain’s place was a note to Brennan from Michalowski saying she would never see the dog again.
That’s the scorn that O’Sullivan alluded to. But Coyne sees it differently.
“When they split up, Tara kept the dog and the plaintiff moved elsewhere. Tara even had a fence put up around her backyard so the dog had an area to play safely,” he said. “The plaintiff did not prove she had superior rights to the dog.”