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      Seattle family may lose house over barking dog

      SEATTLE -- He isn't a prized breed or a champion at the kennel club. He's just plain old Cawper, and he may cost his family more than $500,000.

      "It's his birthday," said owner Denise Norton.

      She came to the Problem Solvers for help and exposure for an issue she and her mother Ruth Clark don't understand.

      "We're flabbergasted by it," Norton said.

      Their north Seattle neighbor sued them over Cawper and his barking -- and won in court for nearly half a million dollars in the form of a default judgment.

      In a sprawling 36-page complaint, Norton's neighbor Woodrow Thompson alleged that Cawper is known for "raucously, wildly bellowing, howling and explosively barking" and that he is an outrage, with intentional infliction of emotional distress -- and that his barking caused "profound emotional distress."

      Thompson's complaint suggests Cawper is capable of barking at 128 decibels through double pane windows. According to Purdue University research, that would mean Cawper is louder than a chainsaw, a clap of thunder and just a hair quieter than the takeoff of a military jet.

      "This whole thing just gets me wound up," Norton said.

      Thompson won his case and to civil attorney Mike Fandel, it isn't much of a surprise. Fandel doesn't have any direct connection to Cawper's case, but can explain how Thompson won.

      "You can bring a frivolous lawsuit and win if the other side doesn't show up," he said.

      Despite being served with papers, Norton didn't respond and thought it was bunk.

      "In my head, everything was so bogus that he'd been doing, I don't know why, I just didn't think it was real or something," Norton said.

      Records show Thompson was given a default judgment because his claims went unchallenged.

      "If you think it ought to be dismissed, it will only be dismissed if you ask the court to do it," Fandel said.

      Norton says she takes full responsibility for not responding to the suit, but she's now working to reverse the decision. So began months of finally going to court to try to unravel the judgment after the lien became official.

      "The Sheriff comes, puts the papers on the garage and the wall and everything and saying they were going to put the house up for sale," Norton said.

      The Problem Solvers tried to contact Thompson multiple times in person, by phone and by email. Norton has been unnerved after finding a camera pointed directly into her backyard from Thompson's awning.

      "I don't know if it's fake or real or what, but it makes you want to not even go out in the yard," Norton said.

      That is part of the evidence she wants to take back to court to fight the judgment. It's on hold now because the family has poured much of its savings into hiring lawyers.

      "He's just a loving, nice dog," Norton said.

      A previous judge did not dismiss the case in part of the family's admitted financial troubles in the past. Fandel said it's going to be an uphill battle to get the case dismissed. A court date is pending.
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