For the wags in Montgomery County Circuit Court, yesterday may well be remembered as a dog day afternoon.
Teddy, an uninterested 9-year-old spitz, was at the center of a hearing in a suit filed by the relatives of a Silver Spring woman who died two years ago, and in her will left her house to Teddy, her pet and constant companion.
The will left by Celeste V. Crawford, who was 77 when she died of cancer, also stipulated that George Schnabele, a retired Montgomery County police officer and longtime boarder at the house, take care of Teddy.
Crawford's other heirs, including four brothers, a sister and a nephew, argued that Teddy and Schnabele should be evicted and the house sold to pay about $12,000 in Crawford's debts. According to an appraisal made after Crawford's death, the house has a fair market value of $75,000.
In a trial marked by humor and offbeat testimony, Judge Leonard Ruben ordered Gilbert E. Tietz, an attorney responsible for Crawford's estate, to secure a $50,000 loan using the house as collateral. The money would pay Crawford's creditors and allow Teddy and Schnabele to remain in the house. The judge ordered that Schnabele, who had been paying $250-a-month rent for a basement room when Crawford was alive, continue to pay rent.
During the morning session of the hearing, Teddy, a fluffy white dog with a curly pouf of a tail, sat, shedding long strands, on a couch outside the courtroom with two of Schnabele's relatives, ignoring reporters and spurning a cup of cold water offered by his attorney, Karl G. Feissner. The judge refused to allow Teddy into the courtroom, and Feissner had him taken home for the afternoon.
Teddy's veterinarian, Dr. K.T. Sonaiah, testified that the dog would suffer "detrimental effects if he was removed from the house" and said that in his opinion Teddy had only two to five years to live.
Alternately referring to Teddy as "the young gentleman," and "Master Teddy," Feissner, in questioning Schnabele, 71, tried to emphasize the possible damage to the dog's "mental health" if he were removed from the house prematurely.
When he asked about the relationship between Teddy and Schnabele's dog King, who also lives at the house, Schnabele answered, "Teddy and King are like husband and wife, but I don't know if they have that physical a relationship. If Teddy scratches, King scratches. Yes, they are very close."
In his closing statement, Feissner said, "A dog is a person who can't speak," which drew a wry smile from Judge Ruben and muffled laughter from the courtroom audience. "He has feelings and he cares and hurts like anybody else," Feissner added.
Ralph Gordon, who represented Crawford's heirs, argued that Crawford had not meant for Teddy to be the sole beneficiary of the house until the dog's death and that Schnabele could still take care of the dog if they lived elsewhere.
"I don't think she intended that the whole estate be consumed for the care of the dog," Gordon said, suggesting that Schnabele move out and be given a small monthly stipend to take care of Teddy.
After the trial, Schnabele, who was left $5,000 and Crawford's bedroom furniture in the will, smiled as he left the courtroom. He said that he did not object to the judge's order that he continue to pay rent.
"I'm not surprised," Schnabele said. "The first thing I'm going to do is go home and take Teddy out of the basement and let him loose. He's waiting for me."