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A fur-ocious custody battle is unfurling in the East Village, where a woman is allegedly clinging to the canine “daughter” she shared with her ex-boyfriend — and he’s suing for the pup’s return.
Lyla, an 11-year-old black-and-white miniature Australian shepherd, has been shifting back and forth between the homes of the former couple for years, until the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down last summer.
That’s when the legal tug-of-war between Melissa Mitreski, 35, and her former boyfriend, Michael Ellenbogen, erupted.
Ellenbogen claims Mitreski refused to let him return to New York to pick up Lyla, according to a Nov. 2 Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit against her.
He maintains that he bought Lyla from a breeder in 2009 and had her prescribed as his “emotional support animal” for stress and anxiety.
The two split in 2015, sharing custody of the dog even when Ellenbogen moved to Nashville in 2018. Mitreski later sought to keep Lyla full-time, emailing Ellenbogen to voice her loneliness, saying she hadn’t been able to find a new romantic interest because potential lovers think she’s holding onto an “attachment” to Ellenbogen via the dog, he claims in court papers.
“She is all I have and my heart. My heart is constantly breaking. … I’ve been so lonely and Lyla has been my biggest support. I love her so much!” Mitreski wrote in an email included in the court file.
Ellenbogen responded, slamming the request to keep Lyla as “a beyond unfair thing to ask … Lyla is a daughter to both of us; I feel the same things you do when I don’t have her, if not more.”
Their mutual attachment to the dog is something any potential partner should understand, he noted.
“If the person isn’t a f—ing idiot, they would understand she’s like a daughter and ‘not just a dog’; like most f—ing moronic people think of dogs — and would realize that having split custody of a daughter isn’t holding an attachment to a former partner,” he wrote in another email included in court papers.
But in a Dec. 22 countersuit against Ellenbogen, Mitreski claims she is the one who provided the cash for Lyla’s purchase, along with much of the dog’s care over the years. In the filing, slammed her ex as “abusive,” and accused him of getting a doctor to fabricate Lyla’s emotional support animal status so that he could travel with Lyla.
Traveling to Tennessee means Lyla rides in the cargo area of a plane, which “is certainly not in her best interest,” Mitreski argues in court papers.
And besides, Mitreski alleges in the litigation, Ellenbogen is engaged and has a new puppy.
“He has clearly moved on with his life,” Mitreski said in court papers.
The best place for Lyla is with Mitreski, she contends in legal papers accusing Ellenbogen of filing his suit just to “meddle and remain involved in my life.”
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