Late one afternoon Cheryl Sadar walks into the backroom of her pet-grooming business, Kritters Pet Supplies, and retrieves a sealed, transparent plastic bag packed with black and white matted hair. When she opens it, the odor of stale urine fills the air. Another, smaller bag holds a handful of short, knotted strands of twine that long ago were used to suture a wound. These artifacts bear witness, she says, to the mistreatment of a mixed-breed spaniel named Charlie. The culprit, she contends, is 78-year-old former Broward PTA president Ann Murray.
For three years now, Sadar and David Murray, Ann's son, have been locked in a very public battle over Charlie that has involved a nasty lawsuit and several tense encounters with police. Indeed you may spot David Murray if you drive past the intersection of Federal Highway and Davie Boulevard, where both Kritters Pet Supplies and the locksmith shop of Sadar's husband, Kelly, are located.
Murray regularly cruises the location in a green 1946 Chevy pickup mounted with a ten-foot-long banner that on one side reads: "SHAME ON Kelly's... & Kritters.../They Stole My Mothers' [sic] Dog/These Mean Spirtied [sic], Malicious Liars & Thieves...." On the back, there's this: "Judicially Recognized Liars/Kritters Owner Cheryl Sadar Took Me To Court With Kelly's Backin'/Judge Cohen & Judge Damoorgian Saw Through The Lies & Sent Them Packin'."
Murray thinks his protest is the best way to spread the word about Sadar's abduction of Charlie. And he believes it is hitting his antagonists in the pocketbook. "I could have written the Better Business Bureau," he says, "but who checks with the Better Business Bureau before they get a key cut or a dog groomed?"
Charlie is one of more than 230 strays that Kritter Kare, a small group of committed volunteers headed by Sadar, has taken in and then adopted out to private owners during the last decade. Cheryl Sadar has always loved animals. In 1991 she opened Kritters Pet Supplies in a room next to Kelly's locksmith shop, which was then located on SE 17th Street. A year later she registered Kritter Kare as a nonprofit corporation.
Soon both enterprises gained a loyal following mostly consisting of cat owners from the Rio Vista neighborhood. Kritter Kare evolved into a calling for Cheryl and the others whom she invited to help. The nonprofit pays for everything -- spaying, neutering, veterinary visits, all necessary surgeries, food, and cat litter -- for the animals it takes in. "We promise each little animal we rescue that [it] will never be hurt again," Sadar says.
The controversy over Charlie started in the final weeks of June 1998 when a friend of Kritter Kare member Leslie Vanderlely retrieved Charlie from a Dumpster, then handed him over to the animal-rescue group. (Neither Vanderlely nor Sadar will disclose the finder's name.) Sadar emits quick bursts of laughter, and tears well in her eyes when she describes the first time she saw the dog. "He was in horrendous, horrendous condition," she says. "His dewclaws had wrapped around; they had grown through his flesh and he had... urine burns."
Sadar and another volunteer, Erica Goncola, took the dog to Joe Kashner, a veterinarian at South Federal Animal Hospital. "That dog was in terrible condition," recalls Kashner. Indeed, veterinary records from that visit show the severely underweight dog had open sores on his legs and a wound on his belly covered by maggots. Charlie was also missing a couple of teeth. Kritter Kare paid more than $400 for the treatment, which included a neutering.
During late June and early July, the pooch recovered at the Fort Lauderdale home of a friend of the Sadars', Linda Gould. Gould lived near Ann Murray, who immediately took to Charlie. "I fell in love with him right away," Murray says. "I've always had dogs, but Charlie was special."
She decided to adopt the dog, and Gould referred her to Sadar. Sadar interviewed the hopeful owner and decided -- conditionally, she says -- that the elderly woman would be a good owner. Then Ann Murray signed a contract that obligated her to "accept... responsibility for providing a clean, healthy, caring and loving environment." Sadar decided not to inspect the woman's home, though such an action is allowed under the contract.
Then Murray took Charlie home, and Sadar and other members of the nonprofit group did not hear from the dog's new owner for more than a year.
Murray says she took good care of Charlie. He lived like any of the many dogs and cats for which Murray has cared during the past 30 years. David Murray, who lives across from his mother's house, recalls, "She would walk Charlie with her other dogs twice every day." He also points out that Ann Murray's back door has an opening so that a pet can pass freely between the kitchen and a fenced-in back yard, which is filled with native plants.
On August 3, 1999, Ann Murray took Charlie to Rogers Animal Hospital, where veterinarian C.J. Beaupied gave the dog a clean bill of health but suggested a grooming. "At the time "Charlie' had some fleas... and some matting to his fur," Beaupied wrote. So Murray made an appointment with Sadar, but had to reschedule because of the approach of Hurricane Floyd. On September 24 Ann Murray finally left Charlie at Sadar's shop.
"All I could do is cry when he came back in that condition," Sadar says. "I just called the board members and said, "We need to have an emergency meeting before I do anything with this dog.'" Sadar took a Polaroid, which she has kept, of Charlie's underbelly; the photo shows a dark stain of urine. His fur was matted and infested with fleas. "From grooming animals you know how the dog is supposed to look," she says. "That's not how Charlie looked." Kritter Kare members unanimously decided to hold on to Charlie and advised Sadar to inform Ann Murray.
Enter David Murray, a 53-year-old father of four. After arriving home October 1 from a business trip, he drove to Kritters Pet Supplies and demanded Charlie's return. When Sadar refused, Murray called the Fort Lauderdale police. Two cops showed up, spoke with both Sadar and Murray, then ordered Murray to leave and warned that he would be arrested for trespassing if he returned.
To understand the events that followed, one must know something about David Murray. This is a man who in 1968, after his rare Austin Healey Sprite automobile was stolen and stripped, started a mission. Every time he passed an Austin, he recalls, he scrutinized it for pirated parts. Two years after the theft, he found his car's seats in a Sprite that was parked at Broward Community College campus in Davie. When Murray contacted the car's owner, he returned them. In 1990, after losing $3500 in a stock trade that involved a catalog-distribution company called Showcase Shop-by-Video, David Murray began a new crusade. He filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission, then spent years hectoring the stockbroker who had suggested the purchase. In 1996 the broker refunded $2500.
So David Murray wasn't fazed by Sadar's refusal to return Charlie. "They had told my mom that they were going to have a board meeting, and the board would decide whether she was going to get the dog back," David recalls. "But they wouldn't give my mom the names of the board members." David tracked them down anyway and requested Charlie's return, he says. They refused.
On October 6, 1999, a veterinarian at South Federal Animal Hospital examined Charlie and treated him for tapeworm, which he had most likely contracted from the fleas. Around that time the Murrays retained local animal-rights attorney Steven Logan. Negotiations lasted for months but were unsuccessful.
In May 2000 David Murray filed a lawsuit against Kritter Kare demanding, among other things, Charlie's return. So far the lawsuit has gone nowhere. This past October the Sadars' attorney, Paula Kessler, told Judge Linda Pratt the dog had been adopted. "Now, why did they carry out all these negotiations if the dog had been adopted out?" Murray asks.
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So Murray went to a sign shop, paid for printing of the banners, mounted them on PVC pipe, then hung them on his truck. "I thought about it," he says. "I stewed about it and determined what I was going to do." On March 9, 2001, at around 7:30 a.m., he drove to Federal Highway and Davie Boulevard, where the Sadars had moved their shops the preceding summer. When Kelly and Cheryl drove up an hour and a half later, pandemonium ensued. "I guess the best way to put it was they were as confused as termites in a yo-yo," Murray muses.
Murray has continued his mission, visiting the location 30 or 40 times and sometimes stopping. He's usually there during rush hour. Cheryl Sadar has called the police often, and twice, in March and May, the Sadars asked for a restraining order to keep Murray away. Judges denied the requests because Murray has not threatened violence.
The Murrays' lawsuit, which has cost them about $1300 in fees, is still open. David Murray offered to pay for binding arbitration at a hearing in June, but the Sadars rejected the idea. Now the Murrays say the return of Charlie is no longer a goal. "I said up front that if he was adopted I wouldn't ask for him back," says Ann Murray, "because I don't want to do to his new family what was done to me."
Her son is planning for the long haul. He's paid about $200 for the banners and is planning to spend more. "I already have my Christmas sign," he says, then outlines brackets with his hands above his head: "SANTA WON'T BE STOPPIN' HERE/ KELLY'S AND KRITTERS HAVE BEEN BAD ALL YEAR."