Elite NYC Lawyers Locked in Bitter Custody Feud Over Beloved Mini Poodle

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images

A corporate restructuring attorney at a high-powered New York City law firm is suing his ex-boyfriend for allegedly dognapping his beloved miniature poodle and holding her hostage at an apartment in Midtown Manhattan, plunging him into a grievous state of emotional distress.

In a six-figure civil lawsuit obtained by The Daily Beast, Akin Gump associate Taylor Leighton says he wants back his pet—who is named for onetime child actress Raven-Symoné and a member of The Real Housewives of New York City cast—plus more than $200,000 in damages.

“Raven is more than a dog to me,” Leighton wrote in an affidavit submitted alongside a complaint filed Tuesday in New York State Supreme Court. “I consider her to be my child. As an illustration to this Court of my love for Raven, I planned an extravagant first birthday party for her in the apartment. I spent several days planning and decorating, including blowing up hundreds of balloons and placing decals on the wall to give Raven a special day. Defendant, of course, participated in the festivities but it was me who took the lead on all planning and implementation.”

The affidavit accuses Nathan Greess, a litigation associate at white-shoe firm Winston & Strawn, of not only stealing Raven, but also exacerbating Leighton’s long-standing relationship issues with his now-estranged mother, who allegedly used the family dog, a yorkie-poo named Charlie, “to control me during my adolescence.” Greess has refused to work out a resolution acceptable to Leighton, who claims his ex has also lobbed “threats to make spurious allegations to cause me embarrassment and pain.”

Raven “needs me in her life,” Leighton’s affidavit says.

“Mr. Greess has not been served with any filing relating to his dog, Raven, and does not wish to litigate this personal matter in the media,” Greess’ attorney Emily Pollock told The Daily Beast. “But he strongly disputes that Mr. Leighton has superior possessory or ownership rights to Raven or that it would be best for Raven to live with Mr. Leighton instead of Mr. Greess, particularly in light of Mr. Leighton’s conduct throughout the parties’ relationship. Should Mr. Leighton pursue his claims, we are confident that Mr. Greess will prevail and Raven will remain with him.”

Leighton and his attorney, Benjamin Katz, did not respond on Wednesday to multiple requests for comment.

Under New York State law, plaintiffs have 120 days to serve a defendant with court papers.

Leighton and Greess met in January 2020, while they were both first-year law students at New York University School of Law, and began a romantic relationship the following month, according to the affidavit. It says they moved in together that July, at the height of the initial COVID-19 lockdowns, and in September, started to discuss the possibility of getting a dog.

Greess was “initially apprehensive” about the idea, but eventually “agreed to consider doing so,” the affidavit states. In October 2020, Leighton contacted a Minnesota breeder specializing in toy poodles, malti-poos, yorkie-poos, shih-poos, and toy and miniature poodles. Prices ranged from $2,000 to $3,500, but Leighton, a Minnesota native, says in his affidavit that Charlie, his family dog growing up, came from there, and the outfit was a known quantity he felt he could trust.

The breeder’s website listed an upcoming litter of black mini poodles that would be available in late December, and Leighton convinced Greess to let him get one, according to the affidavit. He sent a $300 deposit to procure the second pick of the litter, the smallest female among them, and was told he could pick up his new puppy when it was six weeks old. Over winter break from law school, Leighton traveled to Minnesota and paid a total of $2,791 for her, including tax.

“I chose the name Raven because she was black in color like the bird and because my favorite actor as a child was Raven-Symoné from Disney Channel’s That’s So Raven,” Leighton’s affidavit states. “The Disney Channel was a theme in naming the two other dogs my family owned when I was younger. We had a Springer Spaniel named Brittany that I received as a birthday gift in 2000 (named after one of my favorite singers, Britney Spears) and my yorkie-poo Charlie (named in part due to the title character from Disney Channel’s ‘Good Luck Charlie’). Actually, Raven’s full name is ‘Countess Raven’ in homage to one of my favorite reality television personalities, Countess Luann de Lesseps, of Bravo’s the The Real Housewives of New York City.

Leighton says in his affidavit that he and Greess “specifically discussed who would have title to the dog, given that we were not married.” The two agreed to list Leighton’s name on the ownership papers, the affidavit goes on, because Greess knew all about the issues between Leighton and his mom, regarding Charlie.

“I expressed to Defendant that I needed to know that even he would not be able to use Raven to control or manipulate me,” the affidavit continues. “Defendant acknowledged my concerns and agreed that my name would be on all documents to ensure I would always have ownership and custody rights. For that reason, my name alone appears on the microchip and NYC dog license.”

Although both of them walked and played with her, Leighton insists that he was Raven’s primary caretaker, creating a customized training and feeding regimen, taking her to vet appointments, and having her groomed, “so Raven would have the most positive early life experiences, allowing her to adapt to New York City and to thrive.”

“In addition to taking the lead on the management of the household and Raven, I also spent a large amount of time with Raven, developing our unique, personal bond,” the affidavit states. “I woke up earlier than Defendant and spent time each morning snuggling and cuddling with Raven in bed before the workday and before Defendant awoke. I cherished those morning snuggles as a valuable time to connect with Raven before the day and to give Raven love and comfort before we needed to transition focus to work.”

The connection between the two grew to the point that Raven “does not like being without me and does not do well with sudden adjustments to her routine,” according to Leighton’s affidavit.

While Leighton’s relationship with Raven was deepening, tensions between him and Greess were starting to form. The two had discussed getting married, which Greess continued to push for, according to the affidavit. Yet, Leighton didn’t feel quite ready to take the plunge, it says. In early 2024, Greess “demanded that I either commit to marry him within three years or he would need to reevaluate the relationship,” Leighton says in the affidavit, adding that he “did not give in to his pressure.”

On March 9, Leighton and Greess were out to dinner with friends when Greess’ “desire to progress our relationship became a topic of conversation,” according to the affidavit.

“The conversation contributed to a fight that night between us and our formal break-up the following day,” it states. “The fight became physical, the police were called, and I was admitted to the emergency room and released later the same day after receiving stitches to my leg and elbow…. Both that night and the next day Defendant sent several text messages. He acknowledged that Raven was my dog and that I could take Raven following the break-up because Raven and I were replaceable.”

“Please, you shall take her out (not a request; Rather a demand) I will not be doing that today, as she is your dog,” one of Greess’ texts read, according to the affidavit.

Another allegedly read, “[Y]ou can take her if you want. I am not going to fight you over her. I’m done and want to be fully done now. So please take her and let me move on from you. She can be replaced. You can too.”

On March 10, Greess moved out and took Raven with him, the affidavit alleges. For the past six weeks, he has “refused” to let Leighton see her, causing “undue stress and anxiety” for the dog, and “extreme anxiety, stress, and depression” for Leighton, according to the affidavit. Raven, Leighton contends in his affidavit, is presently at an apartment on Manhattan’s West 43rd Street, where Greess is residing with his father.

“Unlike Defendant, I do not believe Raven can be replaced,” the affidavit says.Leighton says he has made multiple attempts to work things out. And even though he believes he is Raven’s rightful owner, Leighton’s dad had a Zoom call, as his proxy of sorts, with Greess’ dad, to try and come to a shared custody arrangement. But, Greess allegedly said—more than once—that he had “no intention of sharing Raven or bringing her back.”

Two weeks later, the affidavit states, a lawyer retained by Greess sent Leighton a letter making clear that he had no intention of sharing custody of Raven. Leighton retained an attorney of his own, while still hoping to avoid litigation, which the affidavit says is “something I never wanted to do.” On April 10, a second lawyer sent Leighton another letter that “reaffirm[ed] Defendant’s unwillingness to resolve the issues, [and] also included threats to make spurious allegations to cause me embarrassment and pain,” according to the affidavit.

“While I believe I have approached this situation from a position of love for Raven, Defendant has used her to hurt me,” the affidavit states. “I do not believe he is acting out of love for her. I know it is in Raven’s best interests to be with me. I can support her financially and provide her with a loving and nurturing environment. She should come back home.”

Raven “has a significant and unquantifiable emotional and personal value to me which cannot be replaced,” Leighton says in his affidavit. “I miss her dearly and want her back.”

He is now asking a judge to order Greess to share custody of Raven with Leighton until a final determination can be made, plus $100,000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress, $100,000 for negligent infliction of emotional distress, $7,791 for the purchase of Raven and the cost of her care, and yet-to-be-determined attorney’s fees.

Greess has not yet filed a formal response to Leighton’s allegations.

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