LAS VEGAS, NV (KTNV) — A 13 Action News investigation into a woman's claims that a rescue group stole her dog has escalated after news that the dog has since died, and under mysterious circumstances.
Jayne McKenna describes her first encounter with Wicket Bear as love at first sight.
"He was the kindest soul. He loved everybody."
McKenna adopted the Pekingese in August from Tanya Filippone at Pekes Paws and Tails Rescue. After that, they were inseparable.
"Brought him to a couple Vegas Golden Knights practices to see how he would handle crowds and other people," says McKenna.
Suddenly, McKenna says, Filippone became inexplicably upset over a mix-up getting Wicket to the dentist. He eventually got an appointment on September 19.
That would be the last time McKenna ever saw him.
When McKenna went to the vet to pick Wicket up, he was gone—essentially repossessed, like a car you've failed to make timely payments on.
"So we pretty much shifted from 'Bring Wicket Home' to 'Justice for Wicket' because no animal deserves to be treated that way. But especially not him."
At that time, Pekes Paws and Tails told 13 Action News that adoption requirements included keeping vet appointments.
A statement from the rescue to McKenna said in part:
You failed to abide by these requirements of Pekes Paws and Tails. Accordingly, Pekes Paws and Tails had no alternative but to take back possession of the dog.
"I immediately reached out and just begged and pleaded for him back," said McKenna.
When her efforts fell on deaf ears, McKenna sued—claiming the adoption was final—and attached Filippone's own social media post about it.
The lawsuit alleges Filippone "stole and dognapped" Wicket.
Cindy Fowler agrees.
"She even offered for me to take him from Jayne [McKenna] and basically steal him back from the vet and I found that to be wrong," says Fowler.
Fowler fostered Wicket before his adoption but says she quickly realized things with Filippone were not as they seemed.
"Once I realized that she would take a dog from someone that is loving, from a loving home, over an argument," says Fowler, "I felt that was extremely wrong."
Court records contain expletive-laced texts Filippone sent to Fowler in which she threatens to "take a sledgehammer" to McKenna's door and "be at her door and kill her."
The judge ordered Filippone to return Wicket to McKenna while the case played out. But Filippone had already re-adopted Wicket to a couple in Arizona. And only after the court ordered her to disclose Wicket's location did she reveal the dog was dead!
Darcy Spears: "She took him from you and put him in another situation that resulted in his death?"
The Arizona couple, also named in McKenna's lawsuit, say Filippone didn't tell them where Wicket came from or that he had a serious heart condition.
Court records contain a letter they wrote, saying: "...we immediately expressed concern to Tanya [Filippone] that we were being used as a pawn to hide Wicket Bear from Ms. McKenna. Had we not been defrauded by Filippone, we could have returned Wicket to Ms. McKenna before his death in December."
Pekes Paws and Tails filed a counter suit claiming McKenna "...engineered a vicious social media defamation campaign."
According to McKenna, and court records, that campaign includes posting updates and questions from the court case on her blog.
"We asked for a record of all of her donations that she has received since 2008," says McKenna. "And she wrote back that she had never received a donation ever."
But McKenna says she tracked Filippone's social media posts which confirm donations.
"We added it up to $41,760," says McKenna.
Through her attorney, Filippone declined our request for an on-camera interview citing pending litigation. In a statement, he wrote:
Ms. McKenna has taken her failure to properly follow the adoption procedures and has turned it into a personal vendetta to try and destroy Pekes' reputation as a dog rescue.
But he wouldn't provide any information about the rescue's finances or how donations are spent. Donors have posted on Facebook asking for receipts and pictures of dogs recently adopted out.
"There have been a lot of questions about her fundraising efforts," says McKenna.
At one point in the court case, Filippone was sanctioned by the judge and ordered to pay $500 to McKenna. Shortly before the money was due, a GoFundMe page appeared, soliciting donations to help Filippone fight aggressive stage 3 breast cancer. Filippone raised nearly $12,000 on GoFundMe and did pay McKenna.
But a woman attorneys identify as Filippone's aunt submitted a letter to judge Elizabeth Gonzalez saying, "Tanya [Filippone] needs to be stopped raising money claiming she had breast cancer and had been on chemo... She is [a] Fraud taking people's money for her legal battle."
To date, Filippone has spent thousands in legal fees fighting a battle over a dog nobody can bring back.
Just last week, lawyers from Hutchison and Steffen dropped Filippone as a client and filed a lien against her and Pekes Paws and Tails. They say they're owed more than $30,500 in legal fees and also cite Filippone's hostility toward McKenna.
The case—with a third law firm for the rescue group—is scheduled to go to trial in November.