In a complicated and convoluted story, one fact remains undisputed: four animals are gone from their home.
But the events leading up to their removal are highly disputed by both the animals’ owner, Gayle Shriner, and Bellevue-based realtor Jesse Le.
A Pierce County judge ruled against Shriner in small claims court last month, saying that while Le’s actions “were not nice,” they were not found to be illegal.
Shriner, a longtime Key Peninsula resident, claimed that Le removed her animals Aug. 28 from property located off McEwan Road on the Key Peninsula.
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The animals — three sheep named Shem, Sheba and Shally and a goat named Gideon — were rotated among nearby properties in the neighborhood by Shriner to keep underbrush and grass cropped low. The animals had been previously kept on the property in agreement with the former owner.
“We’re just stunned,” Shriner said of the removal. “They were pets.”
The animals were regular features in the annual Living Nativity display at Discovery Baptist Church in Gig Harbor and beloved among members of the Key Peninsula community of Home where they participated in the annual parade.
Shriner said that she was aware the previous owner of the property had died and that the location was being renovated by Le to be sold. She claims that she had permission to graze the animals on the property as part of her regular rotation in the neighborhood.
We’re just stunned. They were pets.
After returning Aug. 27 from a two-week trip to Canada to visit grandchildren, Shriner said she had one voicemail from Le asking her to move the animals. She checked on them the following day and said that neighbors witnessed someone moving the animals later in the day.
Thinking a friend had moved the animals to another pasture, Shriner didn’t notice anything amiss until early September, when she called Le and learned he had believed the animals abandoned and placed an online ad, offering them to a good home.
Le has a different perspective on the events.
Having purchased the property in the fall of 2015, Le stated that he was very clear with Shriner that the animals needed to be moved from the property for work to continue. He called her over a dozen times over the span of the following two years asking the animals to be moved, and has phone records proving the calls were made, he said.
Le noted that Shriner moved the animals once at his request — so that a repair to the property’s well could be made — but were moved back against his wishes.
When the property was sold and nearing closure in August, Le said that he tried multiple times to contact Shriner via phone about moving the animals permanently. He even talked to neighbors in person to try to locate Shriner, finally finding her house and knocking repeatedly on the door.
She’s trying to paint it out that I maliciously stole her animals. I gave them away, I didn’t profit from it at all. They were more or less abandoned it seemed like.
Le said that he even tried twice to move the animals himself, at the suggestion of neighbors, but was unable to successfully corral the animals.
Finally, at a loss for what else to do, Le said that he placed an online ad and gave the animals away, unaware that he could have called animal control.
“She’s trying to paint it out that I maliciously stole her animals. I gave them away, I didn’t profit from it at all,” he said. “They were more or less abandoned, it seemed like.”
Hearing from Shriner, Le said that he contacted the man who had taken the animals to arrange their return. The man agreed, but for a price to compensate his time and the expense of their move, of which Le offered to pay half. Shriner demanded the full amount be paid by Le.
Over the fall, arguments between the two parties escalated, with threats from both sides, phone calls from the sheriff’s department and animal control officers — and negative Facebook post exchanges — culminating in the small claims court appearance last month.
Following the judge’s ruling, Le is ready to be done with the matter, regretting the ongoing hostility.
Shriner is still hoping to get her pets back, but is disheartened following her visit to small claims court. She noted that one positive result from the situation has been the support of her neighbors and their shared love of the animals.