Thursday, October 27, 2005
Orange County Register

Pow! Woof! Westminster woman battles caped crusader
Former superhero takes on O.C. woman.
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Last updated:  September 2013



FRANK MICKADEIT
Register columnist                  fmickadeit@ocregister.com
There he was, Burt Ward - aka "Robin," Batman's trusty sidekick - and someone was posting messages on an Internet site slamming his Southern California dog-rescue operation and his obsession with a certain brand of dog food.

"Holy Alpo, Batman!!!" as Robin might shriek. "Sounds like the work of Catwoman!!!"

"No so fast, my diminutive, tights-wearing chum!!!" Batman would reply. "This caper has the odorous stench of something that could only emanate from ... Orange County!

Indeed.

It is a Westminster woman by the name of Barbara Laird who has taken on The Boy Wonder, who, by the way, is now 60 years old.

In return, Ward has gone to his utility belt and slapped Laird and three other people with a libel lawsuit in O.C. Superior Court.

THWACK!!!

Today's episode begins in Norco, a semi-rural, bovinesque community about a million miles from Gotham.

On Jan. 30, Laird drove out to Norco to adopt a Great Dane from Ward, who runs Gentle Giants, which takes in and adopts out large dogs.

He has dozens at any given time, and his Web site, www.gentlegiantsrescue.com, shows Great Danes, St. Bernards, Irish wolfhounds and the like with happy slobbering faces, meeting and greeting prospective owners.

Laird selected a 3-year-old male Dane and took him home that night. On the way home, she named him Samson, a kind of Biblical superhero, if you will.

Samson was a great dog, Laird said, but for one nagging problem - diarrhea.

SPLAT!!!

So Laird switched from the dog food the Wards had recommended, Pedigree, to one called Eagle. According to Laird's sworn declaration, she mentioned the switch in an e-mail she sent in early April to Tracy Ward, Burt's wife and the other half of the Dynamic Duo at Gentle Giants.

Holy faux pas!!!

The Wards take a dim view of adoptive parents who deviate from the care and feeding they prescribe, and insisted Laird switch back to Pedigree. She refused.

Burt sent her an e-mail titled "Notice of Violation of Adoption Agreement and Notice of Intent to Repossess Samson." She replied that nothing in the agreement specified she feed Samson a certain brand.

The back and forth continued, unresolved. In the meantime, Laird - who when she's not fighting with crimefighters is an escrow officer - began posting her saga on several Internet forums.

She asked other online posters to talk about their experiences with Gentle Giants, which generated "statements from many people who had unknowingly adopted sick or violent dogs from Gentle Giants." Some of these she posted in public view on the sites. She also urged people to file complaints with the Norco Animal Control Department and complained to the state veterinary board about some unprescribed medication she alleges Tracy gave her.

ZOWIE!!!


The Wards responded in August with a lawsuit, naming Laird and three other people whom they allege "published unprivileged, false and disparaging information."

The Wards' lawyer, Sanford Passman, told me his clients have the right to repossess any dog they feel is being abused.

"If you do not use their food, and your dog does not do well, the Wards feel that you are essentially abusing the dog," he said. The diarrhea indicated the dog was not doing well.

Laird says switching brands helped clear upthe diarrhea.

She and her co-defendants have responded to the suit by filing what's called an anti-SLAPP motion - asking the judge to find that the Wards' suit is designed to stifle protected free speech.

That won't be decided for a couple of months, although there's a hearing today over whether one of the co-defendants must immediately shut down a Web site largely dedicated to criticizing the Wards.

There's also still the possibility that Samson could fall into the hands of his, shall we say, noncustodial parents.

Holy Amber Alert!

Will Samson remain an O.C. hound? Will Laird be muzzled? Or will our erstwhile Caped Crusader prevail? Stay tuned. Same Bat Column! Same Bat Page!


http://www.ocregister.com/ocregister/news/columns/article_734299.php


Update from Marc Sayer (Co-Defendant)

Subject: [Tiergans_Roar] In The News...and the courts
Date: 10/27/2005 4:14:12 PM Pacific Standard Time
From: marcsayer@comcast.net
Reply To: Tiergans_Roar@yahoogroups.com
To: Tiergans_Roar@yahoogroups.com

Well, I just heard from Mick, my lawyer. The judge tossed out GG's request for a temporary restraining order, telling them he saw little to no chance they could prevail in their request for a permanent injunction so he saw no reason to issue a temporary restraining order. They have requested and been granted a hearing on the permanent injunction on Nov. 18th., but the judge said he was skeptical that GG could convince him to issue such an injunction. In the meantime we are free to continue using the domain names I currently own, which include gentlegiantsrescue.info, gentlegiantsrescue.org, gentlegiantsrescue.net, and of course http://www.gracieland.org/RW/  The first three all point to the last one, and are simply portals to get to the content.

We in the meantime have filed a motion to dismiss based on the SLAPP statute which will prevent any additional motions or progress in the case until our motion has been heard. For more on the SLAPP statute see http://www.casp.net/

The nice thing about this is that it refocuses the issue back where it belongs, on whether our actions were an issue of free speech and whether the lawsuit was simply an attempt to use the courts to harass us and try to squelch public discussion. And from our perspective, it means they will pay for our defense when we prevail. Of course their attorney's assured us they would prevail, despite already having lost another SLAPP case to the Press Enterprise, engendering a $51,000 judgment, money coming straight out of the dog's mouths, so to speak. I sure hope their attorneys are working pro bono, otherwise GG is going to be losing a lot of money in all this. I'd hate to think they wasted money on something like this, again, rather than spending it on the dog's care.

--
Marc Sayer
Journalist, Photographer, Dog Trainer (APDT member #062956)
Board member - Western States Great Dane Rescue Association
Director of Operations & Training - Deaf Dane Rescue Inc.
Springfield, OR USA

My Homepage - http://gracieland.org

Deaf Dane Rescue Homepage - http://gracieland.org/DaneRescue/
Discovering and Disclosing The Truth About
Gentle Giants Rescue and Adoptions
(Norco, CA)