Easley city council member at center of dog controversy
By Nicole Daughhetee
EASLEY — A small dog has become a big story in Easley, as stories have even aired on television news channels around the country about Lucy, aka Gracie, the tiny chihuahua at the center of what has become a legal battle over the dog’s ownership.
The story begins back in May 2012, when Keith and Kerri Blanton, along with their four children, ages 5, 6, 11 and 17, took a vacation for Mother’s Day. Having difficulty finding a hotel that was pet-friendly, the Blantons left their chihuahua, Lucy, in the care of family friends.
“Our friend let Lucy out in their fenced-in backyard to do her business,” said Kerri Blanton. “Five minutes later, Lucy was missing. The family that was watching Lucy looked for her until after midnight, and we came home from the beach the next day to join the search for Lucy.”
While the Blantons were looking for Lucy, Easley city councilman Dave Watson and wife Trisha said the dog (which they call Gracie) found their home and was shivering out on their front porch during the heavy rain that fell that weekend.
“Gracie found us,” Trisha Watson said. “The dog was put outside by itself. You never put a three-and-a-half pound dog outside. She is never left alone with us.”
Trisha and Dave Watson said that they did everything they possibly could to find the dog’s owner. They put up a sign at Casey’s — the store frequented by people in their neighborhood — and at the 5 Points Diner. Because the pup had painted toenails, Trisha said they called area groomers as well as visiting vets’ offices to see if Gracie had been tagged with a microchip.
“We were the only people to put up a sign at Casey’s,” said Trisha Watson. “The Blantons said they put up a sign at Casey’s, but I am there three or four times a week. I never saw one. They also said people went door-to-door in our neighborhood. No one ever came to our home or our friends’ homes.”
The Blantons maintain that they never gave up searching for Lucy. Kerri said they visited vet offices, called animal control and the humane society, and ran ads in the lost and found section of Craigslist.com.
“I put a new ad on Craigslist every month. The ad I placed on August 2 was flagged and deleted. Who deletes an ad for a lost dog?” asked Blanton. “I reposted an ad in September. It was around this time that pictures of Lucy at an Easley city council meeting were brought to my attention.”
Blanton said when she saw the photos of the Chihuahua, she knew it was Lucy. She immediately contacted Dave Watson thinking that having been found, Lucy would be returned to her family.
“When I spoke to Dave Watson, the conversation didn’t go well,” Blanton said. “He was irate. He told us he had had the dog for over a year, which was a lie according to his wife, Trisha, when she called me back.
“Trisha offered to buy us another dog, but my kids just wanted Lucy back. When we wouldn’t accept the money, the Watsons told us we would have to pay them $533 if we wanted our dog returned.”
Blanton said her family was willing to pay reasonable vet bills and expenses, because they are thankful that Lucy had been well cared for by the Watsons. However, the $533 asking price seemed a bit steep, so they asked for an itemized bill.
“Dave Watson sent an email to us with an invoice that included $219 for vet bills, $14 for coats, $6 for a collar, $16 for a leash, $20 for a blanket and $22 for pee pads,” said Blanton. “I told Trisha that I appreciated the blanket and clothes she had purchased for Lucy, but that I didn’t need them and I wasn’t going to pay for them.”
The Blantons ended up going to the Easley Police Department and filing a report against the Watsons because they felt like they were being extorted. Although officers spoke with the Watsons, there wasn’t much that could be done criminally; so the Blantons filed a civil action against the Watsons. Both families will appear before a local magistrate on October 23 to determine who will ultimately be able to keep Lucy.
“Mr. Watson has publicly admitted that Lucy is our dog, but we have the burden of proving that she belongs to us,” said Kerri Blanton. “I just can’t understand why they won’t do the right thing and give this dog back to our family. My kids keep asking me when we get to bring Lucy home, and I have to tell them I don’t know.”
Trisha Watson did not want to go into detail because of the pending court case. She did say, however, that there is key information that will be brought to light, and that she and her husband will be vindicated.
“I just want someone to know that we aren’t ogres. We love Gracie and she loves us,” said Trisha Watson. “Dave is distraught over this too. Gracie has been a therapeutic addition to our family. She wasn’t housebroken when we found her, and now she is. I guess we will see them in court.”
The Blantons continue to receive an outpouring of public support. Their Facebook Page — Bring Home Lucy! — has more than 1,700 supporters that are both local and from across the U.S.
Easley mayor Larry Bagwell said he is working on a joint statement with other members of the Easley city council and would not go into details, but he did say that he has contacted both parties involved.
“I told the original owners that I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t return the dog to their children,” said Bagwell. “And I have told the Watsons that I don’t understand their motivations.”
Blanton says that she and her family are taking things one day at a time, and they are praying that God will soften the Watsons’ hearts so they will do the right thing and give their dog back.
“The saddest part of all of this is that even my 5-year-old knows that if something does not belong to you, you don’t keep it. Mr. Watson is behaving like a schoolyard bully,” said Blanton.