Divorced Couple Duke It Out Over Frozen Dog Sperm

IMAGE: Dog sperm disputeAKC © Mary Bloom. / ABC News Photo Illustration
Two divorcees are battling in a Michigan court for use of frozen sperm collected from their bullmastiffs, shown above in an image from the American Kennel Club.

When you start fighting about frozen dog sperm, you know the relationship isn't headed anywhere good.

Two divorcees who once had an amicable, post-divorce relationship and business partnership are each claiming ownership of valuable frozen semen taken from three stud-worthy Bullmastiffs, two of which are deceased.

While dog breeding can be a serious hobby and, in some cases, the foundation for a business, the quarrel over the frozen sperm of Cyrus, Romeo and Regg has prompted more than a few chuckles in the Pontiac, Mich., courthouse where the case is playing out.

"The first thing I said is, 'Am I being Punk'd?" Oakland County Circuit Court Family Judge Cheryl Matthews told ABCNews.com. "I mean, come on."

"At the time people in the courtroom were roaring when they argued the motion," Matthews said.

But Karen and Anthony Scully are quite serious.

"It's something I've been a part of for a long time and they are important to me," Anthony Scully said of his dogs.

The two, who divorced in 2002 but went on to run a kennel together, were in court Wednesday responding to a motion filed by Anthony Scully over ownership of several dogs when Karen Scully requested the frozen semen during the course of her oral argument.

Frozen sperm can be banked for years to use in breeding.

When the couple divorced, they agreed to split up their six dogs. But, according to Anthony Scully's motion, his ex-wife moved to Florida and abandoned all six, later taking custody of two female Bullmastiffs that had been bred from two of the couple's dogs.

Bullmastiffs are among the biggest dogs in the world, weighing in excess of 100 pounds, some coming in close to 200 pounds.

The American Kennel Club requires the signatures of all co-owners when a dog is bred in order for the resulting puppies to be AKC-registered, which significantly ups the puppies' value and standing and allows them to be shown at sanctioned dog shows.

Frozen Dog Sperm New Territory for Lawyers

Because the Scullys are listed with the American Kennel Club as co-owners of the dogs, Anthony Scully cannot make any breeding decisions without his ex-wife's permission. To that end, he has requested her name be removed from the paperwork for four remaining dogs and, in turn, he offered to remove his name from the two dogs she took back to Florida.

But because their divorce agreement did not include any specific provision for ownership of the dogs or the semen, stating only that their personal belongings have been divided "to their satisfaction," the Scullys had no choice but to bring their dispute to court.

Karen Scully could not be reached for comment, but her Michigan-based attorney, Christopher Nesi, told ABCNews.com that his client is looking for both monetary damages from the time and effort she put into both the dogs and the operation of Newcastles Kennels in Royal Oaks, Mich., which she ran with her ex.

He declined to comment specifically on his client's wish for the frozen sperm, but noted that the owner of a stud dog or its sperm can charge up to $1,800 to breed it with a female. And the resulting puppies can be sold, he said, for thousands of dollars.

"This is a novel and unique case for me," he said, "but I think we can apply the same principles" as in traditional property dispute cases.

Anthony Scully declined further comment about the case, as did his lawyer, Ryan Mae Steele.

Steele, however, told the Detroit Free Press that "I never had to make an argument quite like this."

"I had a genealogy tree, listing who had puppies, who provided the semen," she said. " It was a lot to take in."

In the end, Matthews referred the case to civil court because the argument was not part of any divorce proceedings and it is essentially a contract dispute.

"Really, they're asking to split up the assets of the business," she said. "I don't have jurisdiction to that."

The couple will also head to civil court over a separate motion filed Wednesday by Karen Scully requesting more than $25,000 in damages from what she said is lost income and non-refunded expenses relating to the operation of Newcastles Kennels.

Freezing Dog Sperm a Growing Practice

The practice of freezing sperm from quality sires has been a growing practice in the past 25 years.

Because breeders spend years and several generations of dogs breeding out undesirable health and temperament traits, semen from a quality sire can be extremely valuable, both in monetary and breeding terms, American Kennel Club spokeswoman Lisa Peterson told ABCNews.com.

"If there is a dog that is a proven sire that produces quality puppies ... then a sire's owner will collect the dog and save it for future use," she said.

And, in many cases, the sperm, which is collected by hand, will be saved for years, even decades for use with a compatible female that may not be born until years after the sire has died.

"The frozen sperm is a great tool," she said, adding that many breeders also use it in artificial insemination cases where the female lives thousands of miles away to save the trouble and expense of transporting the dog for traditional breeding.

As for Matthews, this is, perhaps unbelievably, her second case in which two exes were fighting over frozen dog sperm. In the first case, about three years ago, the couple wanted to include ownership of the sperm in their divorce agreement, she said. And those dogs were also Bullmastiffs.