A Dartmouth Realtor took a tenant’s dog. Now police have reopened the case.

The story of Snoopy continues as two brothers fight to get him back

On the morning of June 4, 2020, Rob Smaggus woke to a flurry of messages.

“I need your help.”

“Someone stole my dog.”

The messages were from his brother Mike Smaggus. Mike used to work as a delivery support worker before he was laid off due to the pandemic. He had just moved out of his home on Hawthorne Street in Dartmouth, which he had been renting for 14 years.

In Halifax’s cut-throat housing market, the property for sale saw more than 60 showings conducted by dozens of real estate agents representing various firms. One of those real estate agents was from Century 21. Her name was Sarah Sullivan. According to the listing activity report obtained by The Signal, Sullivan viewed the property on March 7, 2020.

A few weeks later, after the house had been sold, she appeared on Mike’s doorstep.

“Out of the blue, she asked me if I had a little white dog,” Mike said in an interview with The Signal.

That started a chain of events that would separate Mike Smaggus from his dog and lead to Sullivan’s suspension from work for a month. Now, The Signal has learned that police have reopened the case they once deemed a civil matter.

Four $50 bills

Mike Smaggus and Snoopy, a little white Bichon Frise, had been together for 10 years. He says Sullivan offered to buy his dog at least twice before May 29, 2020, and each time he refused.

He had not been able to find an apartment that accepted dogs, and had arranged to house Snoopy with his friend Ann Manuel and her eight-year-old daughter.

“That way, Mike could continue to interact with him,” Manuel said in an email to The Signal. “We didn’t want little Snoop to suffer separation anxiety. He was familiar with us and got on very well with my dog. My daughter was very excited.”

The only condition would be that Snoopy would have to visit the vet before his move. Unfortunately, due to closures during the first wave of the pandemic, he couldn’t get an appointment soon enough.

So, when Sullivan appeared again, Mike explained this situation.

Two hours later, Mike says, Sullivan returned to the house on Hawthorne with four $50 bills.

She offered to buy Snoopy. Mike declined. She offered him the money for vet bills. He declined again.

“Then she said, ‘Well you’re still going to need a place to put him. Why don’t you hold onto the $200 as a deposit? Just for a day or two. And whenever you’re ready to get him back, call me,’” Mike said. “I figured anyone who would offer you $200 without even knowing you must be a pretty decent person.”

Mike took the $200. Sullivan took Snoopy. And she left.

Sarah Sullivan declined to comment for this article. In a 15-page statement she submitted to the Nova Scotia Real Estate Commission (NSREC), she confirms this order of events.

Louisa Manuel, whose niece was waiting for Snoopy to join her the following week, is close to tears when she remembers the day Mike and Snoopy were separated.

“The worst part about it is he never even got to say goodbye,” she said in an interview.

A civil matter

A trail of text messages between Sullivan and Mike Smaggus, obtained by The Signal, shows what happens next. These messages are from May 31 to July 1, 2020.

A text from Sunday, May 31, reads: “He’s settled right in, loves the kids, plays in the backyard all day…. We go on daily walks in the park. He’s so happy.”

“I know he’s in good hands,” Mike wrote back. “I can pick him up tomorrow night if that’s good for you.”

But Mike didn’t get Snoopy back.

A few days later, Sullivan wrote, “Snoopy is very happy….I think it’s best he stays with us. My girls are going to be heartbroken if he leaves.”

Mike called his brother Rob, who told him to reach out to the police.

“They’ll get her side of the story,” Rob remembers telling Mike. “It’s got to be a total misunderstanding. She’s a real-estate agent. She’s reasonable.”

A few hours later, a police constable knocked on Mike’s door. Mike says the officer told him Sullivan’s version: she had paid for Snoopy and he had run away.

Since money had changed hands, the case was deemed a civil matter by police. “The file has been concluded without charges,” Halifax Regional Police wrote in a statement to The Signal on Jan. 21, 2020.

In the courts of public and professional opinion that this case would be dragged through, Sullivan would repeatedly argue that she had purchased Snoopy fair-and-square. However, Nova Scotia’s Animal Protection Act prohibits the sale of a dog or a cat without a certificate of health from a veterinarian, which Mike says was never provided.

And Snoopy hadn’t run away.

Century 21 Dartmouth, where Sullivan works as a Realtor.   Chelsy Mahar

An investigation begins

Rob filed a complaint with the Nova Scotia Real Estate Commission, and on June 30, 2020, the NSREC began its investigation.

In her statement to the NSREC, Sarah Sullivan said she had given Snoopy to another real-estate agent who had rehomed him.

“The conditions [in the house] were deplorable and absolutely the worst I have ever experienced as a RealtorTM[sic],” Sullivan wrote. “Because I am an overly compassionate person, I had an overwhelming sense of duty to try and help the dog out of a clearly neglectful situation.”

The Signal has been in contact with five sources who know Mike and say he has never neglected or abused his dog.

“We’ve known him for a long time,” Louisa Manuel said. “I have two cats. He’s been more than loving and kind. I’ve never seen him ever abuse his dog.”

“Look, he’s a hoarder. There’s no mincing words about it,” said Rob. “Not TV-level, but Molly Maid would have a field day. Hoarding is a recognized mental illness. He’s had it all his adult life, and it’s gotten worse since our mother passed away. But that dog was not abused.”

In a statement to The Signal, the Nova Scotia SPCA said, “We have no comment because we have no involvement with this.”

‘False and/or misleading statements’

On Jan. 14, 2021, after a six-month investigation, the NSREC submitted its final response to Mike. “The evidence supports Ms. Sullivan used the information she obtained as a licensee in her professional capacity under false pretences… with the intent of having [the dog] rehomed,” the statement read.

It also found Sullivan had threatened to expose Mike’s cellphone number as “retaliation for his inquiries,” provided “multiple false and/or misleading statements to the Investigator about what transpired” and “used information she accessed in the capacity of a real-estate licensee for improper purposes, inconsistent with her obligations and the public interest.”

“This conduct is dishonourable, unprofessional, and is harmful to the best interests of the public and to the reputation of the industry at large,” it concluded.

Sullivan received a $2,500 fine and a month’s suspension of her real estate licence. She is permitted to return to her role at Century 21 on Feb. 16.

This was her second hearing in front of the NSREC. In 2013, she was the subject of a complaint by Shanna Foster, her former sister-in-law, who hired Sullivan to sell her home.

In that case, the NSREC found “the evidence supported” that Sullivan had disclosed Foster’s personal information to two agents at Century 21, submitted “misleading, and in some instances, false” statements, and extended the terms of her brokerage agreement without Foster’s consent, according to the review document given to Foster.

Sullivan was fined $1,900.

‘Good Luck, Charlie Brown’

The saga has played out on social media. Angry, the Smaggus brothers turned to Facebook. Many people expressed their displeasure at Sullivan, while others supported her. Memes poured out which cast Mike as a distraught Charlie Brown.

A comment by Sarah Sullivan on Facebook.   Screen grab courtesy of Lou Bowden

“Snoopy needs to go home to Charlie Brown, now,” one comment read.

“Good luck, Charlie Brown,” read another.

In one response to Facebook commenters, Sullivan said she began receiving hate mail and threatening phone calls from strangers on the internet. She pledged in a comment on Facebook to “disclose PUBLICLY the real reasons why I had the dog to begin with…. The truth will come out because what you are doing will cause me to DEFEND MYSELF.”

Where’s Snoopy?

Rob continues to fight on his brother’s behalf.

“Mike is emotionally exhausted,” Rob said. “Nobody believed him. And he’s been bullied. His entire personal life has been put on display on social media. And he can’t respond. He doesn’t want to respond. That’s not the type of person he is.”

Snoopy had been with Mike for 10 years. In 2011, as his mother was dying from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Mike was looking for ways to ease her last days.

“My mom always had poodles her entire life,” said Rob. “Toward the tail end of her life, her dog, 12 or 13 at the time, was getting old. Our biggest concern was that the dog was going to pass and that it would compound her medical issues. So Mike went out and purchased Snoopy.”

Their mother passed away later that year.

Rob says he was recently contacted by a lawyer to settle the case.

“Apparently, Snoopy is living with an elderly woman in failing health, and she doesn’t want to return him,” Rob wrote in an email to The Signal. “He [the lawyer] wants his client to keep Snoopy and he isn’t offering any form of compensation. In exchange, Mike will get occasional visitation and pictures. I refused, and requested that Snoopy be returned without any further delay.”

Rob Smaggus created this bumper sticker to raise awareness about the case.   Rob Smaggus

As of Feb. 10, police have reopened the case. “Based on new information the file has been reopened and the investigation is ongoing,” a spokesperson for Halifax Regional Police wrote in a statement to The Signal.

Mike would like to see Snoopy.

“None of this was about the money,” Mike said. “I’d like to see him again, make sure he’s alright. I’m sure he probably has a good home. But that should have been my decision, not someone who didn’t even know my dog, or know me.”

Kunal Chaudhary

Kunal Chaudhary

Kunal Chaudhary is a reporter with The Signal based in Toronto, Ontario.

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