Would You Give This Dog a Home? Two Families Say Yes—and a Legal Battle Erupts

updated 03/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

The two families couldn't settle things amicably—and their bitterness persists

It isn't Kramer vs. Kramer, but Kroll vs. Graham has a lot of the same poignant elements: a painful separation, long periods of readjustment and, finally, a bitter court battle with a dramatic resolution. All the elements, that is, except a child. The object of this noteworthy legal skirmish in Massachusetts Superior Court is a 14-year-old dog known to the William Graham family of Duxbury, Mass. as Teddy and to the Stanley Kroll family of Pembroke, Mass. as Ginger. The collie-shepherd has made history by provoking what must be the first joint-custody-of-dog court order in the U.S.

The saga of Teddy/Ginger began in 1978, when William and Susan Graham packed up their two children for a move from Scituate, Mass. to their new house in nearby Duxbury. The family pet had lost his collar and tags in a dogfight; in the confusion over moving, the Grahams neglected to replace them. Shortly after they arrived in their new home, Teddy disappeared, wearing no identification. The Grahams searched frantically for their pet, which had been given to them as a puppy. They scoured local pounds, took ads in a newspaper and cruised miles of suburban streets. A neighbor reported hitting a dog with his car during a storm and said the injured animal ran into the woods when he tried to help it. "After that," says William Graham, service manager of a local auto dealer, "we began to reconcile ourselves to the likelihood that Teddy was dead."

Enter Kathleen Kroll, author of a chatty column in a local newspaper, wife of post office branch manager Stanley, and keeper of a menagerie of stray animals. "One day I looked out the window and saw something moving in the bushes," recalls Kathleen, whose house is four miles from the Grahams'. "It was an injured dog, and he was terrified at first but very friendly when I brought him in." Mrs. Kroll called the police and pound and queried neighbors. After a month the Krolls adopted the dog and named him Ginger after their daughter Katy's favorite drink.

Three and a half years passed. The Grahams attempted to fill the breach with a retriever, which proved unruly. Then, last fall, an animal agency Mrs. Kroll had contacted in her search for Ginger's owner wrote her, giving the Grahams' phone number. (The families disagree on the reason for the delay: One suggested explanation is that the Grahams' description of Teddy made him sound like so many other dogs.) "My husband warned me not to call," Mrs. Kroll remembers, "but I was concerned that whoever lost the dog might be worried that it had been used in some kind of experimentation." She says the Grahams seemed unmoved by news of their pet's survival. They claim they were overjoyed and wanted the dog back immediately. In any case, the two families were unable to work out an amicable solution and on Jan. 3 the Grahams forceably removed Teddy/Ginger from the Krolls' front yard. Mrs. Kroll went to court, demanding the animal back.

Judge Augustus Wagner at first ordered the families to work out the problem themselves. When that failed, he threatened to put the dog to sleep if they remained intransigent. Both sides protested, but neither gave an inch. So the judge decreed henceforth the dog would be Teddy for one month, living with the Grahams, then Ginger for the next, residing with the Krolls.

That solution (not to mention the $1,000 each side spent on legal expenses) pleases nobody. The families continue to criticize each other's care of the pet. Nonetheless, at 6 p.m. on the first of each month, the dog changes residences. A higher law could overturn the court decision soon, however. Teddy is 82 in human years, and, as William Graham sadly notes, "He used to put his paws on my chest, and we'd wrestle all over the living room. But he doesn't do that anymore. He's getting too damn old."

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