By Jaya Narain
With his doleful eyes and silky fur, Bailey the dachshund is loved by almost everyone he meets.
But the little dog’s popularity led to an extraordinary courtroom saga as he found himself at the centre of a custody battle.
Fighting over his affections were his former owner, 55-year-old grandfather Gary Rowlinson, and Steven Spencer, 26, an image consultant.
The bitter tug of love stemmed from an incident in February when Bailey nipped Mr Rowlinson’s two-year-old granddaughter, Lola, on the cheek.
Shocked and fearing for the safety of their seven grandchildren, Mr Rowlinson and his wife Moira, 56, immediately looked for a new home for their pet. They were introduced to dog lovers Mr Spencer and his partner Ken Finney, who lived three miles away.
The Rowlinsons were told the couple were looking for a companion for their chocolate brown dachshund, Dexter, and would be glad to give Bailey a home.
In an emotional handover at their house, the Rowlinsons gave Bailey up, but almost as soon as they had done it they regretted their actions.
Distraught: Gary and Moira Rowlinson, with a picture of Bailey the sausage dog
Within days, they could bear it no more, and went to Mr Spencer’s house to say they had changed their minds and wanted Bailey back.
But Mr Spencer politely told the couple that he would not return the 18-month-old dog, saying the pet was happy and content.
Mr Rowlinson, a joiner, was devastated and launched legal action under the Return of Goods Act, arguing that he had a receipt from the dog’s breeder that proved he was the owner.
In response, Mr Spencer engaged solicitors and barristers in a mammoth legal fight that culminated at Stockport County Court yesterday.
And it ended in heartbreak for the Rowlinsons, from Offerton, Stockport, after a district judge ruled the couple had given Bailey as ‘a gift’ which could not be revoked and dismissed their claim.
New owner: Steven Spencer, right, offered Bailey refuge when the Rowlinsons, left, gave him up after he bit their granddaughter
He also ordered the couple to pay Mr Spencer’s legal costs of more than £1,400 because they had brought the claim and lost.
After the hearing, Mr Rowlinson said: ‘We are very upset – it was obviously not the ruling that we were hoping for.
‘All we can do now is start trying to forget about Bailey and get on with our lives. But it is going to be very difficult because we would have done anything to win Bailey back.
‘If it had cost me £10,000, then I would pay it today to get him back home. We miss him terribly.
‘I bitterly regret letting Moira hand him over that night and that decision will haunt us for the rest of our lives. I do not think it is something we will ever get over.
‘But I think that Steven Spencer is a hard-hearted person who has had no regard for our feelings at all.’
His wife added: ‘I am just gutted that we have lost and that I will never see Bailey again. It has been an awful time.’
Devoted: Moira with Bailey while on holiday in Bournemouth and Gary holding Bailey
Mr Spencer was not in court yesterday but his legal team successfully applied to have the couple’s case dismissed on the grounds that it had no prospect of success.
Jonathan Dale, for Mr Spencer, said: ‘The nub of the issue is the physical transfer of the dog on the night by Mr Rowlinson and his wife to Mr Spencer.
‘It was a gift and the law says a gift, having been effected, cannot be revoked.
‘What has happened is unfortunate but they gave their dog away and four days later regretted their decision.
‘It may seem harsh, but as a matter of law, they cannot undo the transaction because they simply regretted the decision.’
Mr Rowlinson told the court: ‘I am the rightful owner and I love Bailey deeply.
My mother, who is 87, gave me the money to buy him.’
District Judge Ian Lettall said it was ‘inevitable’ that any court would rule that Mrs Rowlinson had given the dog away and had her husband’s authority to do so.