For more than 3Â˝ years, Max, a German shepherd, has called Southern Pines Animal Shelter home.
He’s not a stray. His owner, Charlie Holt, triedÂ to get him back, but the city said no.
And so he’s remained thereÂ â maroonedÂ in a web of lawsuits and competing interests and at a mounting cost to the nonprofit animal shelter.Â
The story of Max begins onÂ March 10, 2015.
Max allegedly escaped Holt’s home a few weeks earlier when emergency personnel were at his home to take HoltÂ to a hospital.
Hattiesburg’s animal control officers said Max was vicious and would not go near him.
The shepherd was spotted in the woods near Southern Pines Animal Shelter, so shelter directorÂ Ginny Sims spent a lot of time in the woods trying to coax him to safety.
When Holt found Max at the shelter after he was released from the hospital, he learned he could not take Max home since the shelter was ordered by animal control officers to keep Max until they could present Max’s case to Municipal Court.
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Holt said no one notified him that Max was at the shelter, but Sims in her answer to Holt’sÂ federal suitÂ said she contacted one of Holt’s friends, Roudet Smith, and told him that Max was at the shelter. Smith could not be reached for comment.Â
Sims also contacted Animal Medical Center, which was caring for Holt’s other pets, but the clinic staff said they could not take Max because of his aggressive behavior.
On March 29, 2015, Holt filed a federal lawsuit against the shelter and the city, seeking not only the return of Max but unspecified damages for unlawful seizure and deprivation of due process and equal protection under theÂ 14th Amendment as well asÂ other wrongs.
Holt said the city’s ordinance, which allowed the dog to be seized, is unconstitutional.
On Aug. 11, 2015, aÂ municipal judge ordered Max held at the shelter until the federal lawsuit could be resolved.
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In November 2016, the parties made an unsuccessful attempt to reach a settlement. The lawsuit was dismissed by U.S. District JudgeÂ Halil OzerdenÂ in April 2017. Holt quickly appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals but died in March before the case was resolved.
The appeal is awaiting theÂ court’s decision. Holt’s estate was replaced as the plaintiff.Â
All the while, Max has remained in the care of Southern Pines because of the lower court’s order.
Now MaxÂ is the subject of yet another lawsuit.
Southern Pines filed a lawsuit Monday in Forrest County Circuit Court seeking payment of the more than $26,000 the shelter has spent on Max’s care and unspecified damages. Around $25,000 of the money was spent on Max’s overall careÂ â mainly housing and food at $20 per day.
“To date, the plaintiff has not been reimbursed for the cost of maintaining Max for over three years, despite requests for payment that have previously been made,” the suit says.Â
Daniel Waide, attorney for Holt’s estate, said he was unaware of the new lawsuit filed by the shelter. He saidÂ he thinks the city should pay for Max’s upkeep since the dog is in the custody at the shelter because of the Municipal Court’s order.
TheÂ nonprofit animal shelter receives funding primarily from donations and grants. It has a contract with the city of Hattiesburg to take in strays brought to the shelter by animal control.
Since the shelter is caring for Max through a Municipal Court order, the city and Mayor Toby Barker have also been named in the shelter’sÂ lawsuit.Â
“It’s an unfortunate thing that this was not resolved a long time ago,” City Attorney Randy Pope said.Â “IÂ hope this can be resolved very quickly. It got kinda complicated after Mr. Holt died.”
Sims was not available for comment, but the shelter’s attorney in the case, Wade Manor, said the lawsuit was filed in an attempt to recoup the cost of Max’s care.
Until the lawsuits are resolved, Max will remainÂ in custody, his future unclear. WaideÂ said he believes Max should be made available for adoption.
“The family wanted him back, but it would cost them thousands and thousands of dollars,” he said.