We Talk to Craig Dershowitz, the Heartbroken Half of the $60,000 Canine Custody Battle
Craig Dershowitz says that the first time he met his adorable puggle (pug-beagle) puppy, "I picked him up and he fell asleep on my shoulder -– there was no choice," he said in an exclusive Dogster interview. He named him Knuckles, or Knux for short, because "he looked like a little fighter. He had an attitude and didn’t take no for an answer. Once I played with him for a little while, I saw that he kind of used his paws, like all puppies do, when playing and the name just fit perfectly."
They had nearly three happy years in New York City together, and Dershowitz came to consider him "my son." His then-girlfriend, Sarah Brega, also helped raise Knuckles. But when they split up, he says she ended up taking the dog to California against his will. Dershowitz, 34, claims Knux was kidnapped by her; she claims in court papers that the dog was a gift.
Dershowitz says he has spent more than $60,000 -- reportedly his life savings from having worked two jobs his whole adult life -- to get his three-and-a-half-year-old dog back. He says he is now working three jobs to try to come close to being able to afford pursuing the case and affording to live.
Documents obtained by Dogster show that the vast majority of this is legal fees by lawyers specializing in canine custody disputes. A negligible amount was spent on private investigators, who located the dog and his ex in California.
Why this kind of money? The tattoo artist -- who also manages an art gallery, runs a nonprofit, and is a doorman of a nightclub ("Sleep is overrated," he says) -- says because he misses Knux deeply every day, as he imagines someone would miss their own human child. Just as difficult is his fear that Knux doesn't fathom why the man who has taken care of him since he was a two-month-old pup would abandon him.
"The saddest thing about being away from Knuckles is that he doesn’t understand, and I feel as if I am disappointing him every day. If he was an actual child, I could explain to him what was happening, he would know I was fighting for him. But, now, I imagine, there is a piece of him that feels loss with me not being there and I hate to think that, in some way, he blames me. Knuckles was and still is my child, my son," and he says he'll stop at nothing to get him back.
To wit, Dershowitz is pretty much out of money, and he hasn't won the fight yet. He claims Brega, a fashion designer, has a wealthy family backing her in her battle to keep the dog. So he has started a fundraising effort online in hopes of raising $20,000 to help pay for future legal expenses. You can see a video of him making his case and his plea on his Rescue Knux page. That's also where you'll find a list of the possible donation levels, with perks that go with each level.
Many commenters there and elsewhere have called him crazy for spending so much money trying to get back his dog. They tell him to adopt another pup, and some joke that for $5,000 they'd have gone and stolen the dog back for him. But it doesn't faze Dershowitz. I'm sure many of you can identify with his feelings:
"I have heard lots of comments about how crazy it is to think of a pet as your child," he says. "But I have heard twice as many from dog owners who understand. The real difference is that people who have never cared for a dog don’t understand it –- heck, before Knux, I would have maybe thought the same thing. Now that I’ve been with him, I realize nothing can replace him."
His own father died when Dershowitz was young. Since he feels like his dog's dad, he won't let anyone else keep his kid.
"I grew up without a father figure," he says in our interview. "This helped me realize what I wanted and needed to become a father myself one day. With Knux, I was able to be loving but stern and to be fun and sensitive to his wants. Without him, I begin to feel as if that big, mature, fatherly part of me is missing. I live an otherwise very full and happy life yet nothing can fill the hole where a son should be."
In court papers from earlier this year, Brega says Knuckles is enjoying the California lifestyle, from the beaches to the nearby parks. And a national news video yesterday showed Knuckles resting peacefully at her side in her California home.
But Dershowitz says his dog was born and raised in NYC, and is very happy there, with Central Park close by, as well as several off-leash dog parks. What about all those hours he's working? Would the dog be alone in his apartment all day, and get lonely? "No defintely not," hs says. "He will have a feline friend to live with as well as close friends (both human and canine) that will stop by to be with all the time. I am changing my work schedule once he is back, dropping one of the jobs and making another one mostly from home with limited hours in the office."
There's a court date today that could go a long way in bringing them back together or wrenching them apart more. Dershowitz is confident that eventually he and Knux will be back together.
"Without sounding preachy, God (or whatever you want to call a higher power) will provide, especially when your intentions are pure and noble. I just know it will work," he says.
Photos provided by Craig Dershowitz