A service dog "stolen” from the yard of a San Diego Marine veteran was in her ex-husband’s possession and was never missing, the man’s lawyer told NBC 7 Wednesday.
In November 2014, Alexandra Melnick enlisted the help of local media to find her dog Kai, who she said was taken from her Vista backyard.
For months, Melnick canvassed North County with fliers of the German shepherd, and on Aug. 31, 2015, she announced she received a tip that Kai was in Aubrey, Texas. On Facebook, she wrote that Kai had ended up with a family that had no idea about his history.
"I went through hell for nine months," Melnick told NBC 7 Wednesday. "I can't explain how horrible that was." She said at no point did she know where her dog was.
But Melnick’s ex-husband, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Pablo Cortes, said the story wasn’t true. According to his attorney, Alex Ozols, the dog was with Cortes the entire time because he is the dog’s partial owner.
"This case is a bad divorce," said Ozols. "These two got divorced; they both wanted the dog, and unfortunately, my client had the dog."
Recently, Cortes was arrested and charged with grand theft and receiving stolen property, stemming from the case, so Ozols said he wanted to give Cortes’ side of the story.
The attorney said Cortes and Melnick bought the dog together while they were married, while Melnick said she bought the dog before marrying Cortes. Ozols provided Cortes’ records of debit card transactions at veterinarians and pet shops.
When the couple went through their divorce, no ruling was ever made on Kai's custody, the lawyer said. In divorce papers, provided by Ozols, Melnick lists “dog food/vet payments” under their expenses.
So during the course of their divorce, Cortes took Kai. Soon, Melnick responded by telling the media and police that someone had sneaked into her backyard and stolen the dog.
"[Cortes] wasn't a suspect. I didn't think about it," said Melnick. "I don't know, I guess I was naive to think he would do something like this."
Nine months later, Melnick said with the help of social meda and organizations she won't identify, she tracked down Kai at her in-law's house, though she initially wrote on Facebook that the dog was with people who didn't know its history.
She then got on a plane to get her dog back.
According to Ozols, Melnick went to the Texas home of Cortes’ father, who was taking care of Kai while Cortes was deployed. Ozols said they are not prepared to talk about how Kai got to Texas.
Melnick went to court in Texas for a property hearing, and because Cortes couldn’t attend, Melnick was given custody of the dog once again, Ozols said. When Melnick returned to San Diego, she did not want to talk with media, but instead posted about Kai’s return on Facebook.
The Facebook page she created, "Bring Kai Home," has since been deleted.
“This whole thing is a crazy production in order to get custody of her dog back from her ex-husband,” said Ozols in an email.
But Melnick said the real proof will come in court.
"They're grasping for straws, saying anything they can to get anyone riled up to save his military career. Wait until court. There is so much evidence, I can't begin to say," she said.