Reagan wears an American flag bandanna and went to class at Winthrop University.
Some say Reagan was interviewed in 2016 by a Winthrop women’s publication about what it’s like to be famous at the Rock Hill school.
Reagan is a dog – a male Goldendoodle.
Now the dog is at the center of a lawsuit in York County, because two former Winthrop roommates are at odds.
Under state law, Reagan is property. The question is, whose property. Does the dog belong to Matthew Snyder or Joey Mercurio? Snyder claims to own Reagan, but Mercurio has kept the dog the past year.
Snyder has filed a lawsuit.
“I just want my dog back,” Snyder said.
Mercurio, the defendant, declined comment and referred all questions to his lawyer. Mercurio’s lawyer, Trevor Threet of Fort Mill, declined to discuss the case, but said Mercurio denies Snyder’s claims to the dog, and plans to contest the lawsuit.
“My client denies the accusations contained in the plaintiff’s complaint and fully intends to defend the claims,” Threet said in a written statement to The Herald.
Animal custody battles are not new. One legal expert said he saw a similar case recently on TV’s “Judge Judy” in a dispute over cat ownership.
“There have been cases over dogs, cats, horses, and the most basic law school torts case taught to every student dates back centuries to England over ownership of a rabbit that was shot,” said Kenneth Gaines, a University of South Carolina law school professor. “These animal cases are rare, but not unheard of.”
Snyder, 26, a former fraternity president, alleges that Reagan is his property and has been since 2011, when he bought Reagan at 9 weeks old. Snyder said he chose the Goldendoodle breed because it’s hypo-allergenic and produces very little dandruff.
“Reagan even used to go to class with me,” Snyder said.
When Snyder took a traveling job in June 2016, he says Mercurio, whom he described as a close friend and former roommate, agreed to house the dog. Snyder said he visited Rock Hill several times over the past year, and saw Reagan each time. He said he came back in June to get Reagan.
Snyder wrote in his lawsuit, filed July 5, that he has spent $2,463 on Reagan for veterinary and other expenses, yet Mercurio did not return the dog because “(Mercurio) felt that the dog was happy and stable.”
Snyder drove from Illinois to be at court in Rock Hill on Tuesday for what was scheduled to be a bench trial in front of a magistrate judge.
However, Mercurio’s lawyer filed a motion for a jury trial and continuance, which was granted, court documents show. No trial was held Tuesday, even though Snyder had several character witnesses lined up to testify he owned the dog.
“I drove all the way here to Rock Hill from Illinois for a hearing that didn’t happen,” Snyder said.
So now the case will likely head to a trial, and jurors will decide who owns Reagan.
Under state law, dogs are “personal property, said Gaines and Miller Shealy, a Charleston School of Law professor.
“Horse and boats, cars and dogs and cats, they are all property under the law,” Shealy said. “A dog is not a person. A dog is property legally.”
The experts said Snyder will likely argue that Reagan was given to Mercurio under what is called a “bailment” – defined as delivering property to another person without transferring ownership.
“His argument is he entrusted his property to someone else, and now he wants it back,” Shealy said.
Gaines said the defense could argue the dog was a gift, or abandoned, or that Snyder didn’t come back in a reasonable time to claim the dog.
“The question the defense probably will bring up is was the length of time reasonable, the dog was abandoned or the owner’s intent was to give up ownership,” Gaines said.
Snyder, who said he starts graduate school next week, also said he will drive back to Rock Hill for court as many times it takes.
“I could care less about money,” Snyder said. “I want my dog.”