A festering dispute over a cop's beloved pet chihuahua sparked allegations of kidnapping, a criminal theft charge and 14-month courtroom drama.
And though police abandoned the charge when Lorena Brunsell, 29, returned the dog to its desperate owners, the bizarre saga is far from over, with the young woman now going after police for costs.
The courtroom antics were slammed by a judge as "verging on a corrupt abuse of prosecutorial power," court documents reveal.
But the dog's owners, one of whom is a Wellington police officer, believe the comments are unfair and feel they've been denied justice after the ordeal, which left them waiting more than a year to be reunited with their elderly pet.
Brunsell was living with her then fiance in Upper Hutt when the couple split in May 2017 and she took the dog, court papers show.
The owners were her fiance's parents, police officer Stuart Main and his wife, Jenny Main.
They were on holiday at the time and told the Herald their son was pet-sitting for them.
However, Brunsell argued in court the dog had been given to her, a claim the owners have described as "absolute rubbish".
The theft charge was withdrawn in July 2018 when the dog, 14-year-old Gemma, was returned.
In a transcript from a 2018 hearing provided to the Herald by the Hutt Valley District Court, Judge Tim Black made scathing remarks about the case, calling the prosecution "appalling" and "a complete abuse of the court's process and of the court's time".
"I mean, it is just incredible that what is effectively a civil dispute about the ownership of a dog has ended up the subject of a prosecution," the judge said.
"This should not have attracted criminal law proceedings. It is completely misconceived."
Main, who stressed he was speaking to the Herald as a member of the public, not on behalf of the police, said he made the complaint "as a citizen".
He said the couple bought Gemma, a beloved family pet, in 2003.
He gave Brunsell several opportunities to return the dog before resorting to contacting police, he said.
"The purpose of making the theft complaint was not to get her prosecuted for theft."
Main said he had simply wanted his dog back — but said when officers arrived at Brunsell's home in May 2017, Gemma was nowhere to be found.
What followed was 14 months of drawn-out court appearances and adjournments, which finally ended with prosecutors withdrawing the charge and Brunsell returning the dog.
At a 2018 hearing, Judge Black told Brunsell's lawyer they might want to look into seeking money through the Costs in Criminal Cases Act following her prosecution by police.
"If Joe Citizen turned up to the police station and said, 'I want to make a complaint about the theft of a chihuahua' they would be told to go to the Disputes Tribunal'," the judge said. "It is just wrong."
But Main, who works in the Wellington Maritime Unit, told the Herald he believed the case was a "clear theft". "There was no reason to believe the dog was hers."
Brunsell's lawyer, Clare Stanley, told the Herald the dog had been living with Brunsell and her then fiance, and Brunsell was "very attached" to her.
"When Lorena moved out, she took the dog with her. She was emotionally attached to the dog at a very vulnerable time in her life and it was a comfort to her."
But Main said there was "no way in the world I'd ever give my dog to someone".
Jenny Main said the process was "like a kidnapping".
The couple were in two minds about whether they would have liked to see the theft charge remain after the dog was returned.
"We don't feel we've had justice," she said.
They also felt the judge's comments sent a message that police officers could not press charges if they'd fallen victim to a crime, for fear of being seen as corrupt.
Stanley said Brunsell was now seeking to have the police pay towards her legal costs. A hearing is set down for March.
"The whole process was very stressful, expensive and upsetting for Lorena," Stanley said.
Hutt Valley Police Area Commander Inspector Sean Hansen said the decision to lay a charge was not the desired outcome, "and legal advice was sought".