TORONTO - When a family squabble descends to arguing over who will pay for the dog food, it is getting down and dirty.
The dog-food bill is an issue in the jostling over the fortune of Harold Ballard, owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League.
Ballard's majority ownership of the team and of Maple Leaf Gardens in downtown Toronto is worth about $100 million.
Since early January, Ballard, 86, has been in a Florida hospital, gravely ill. He has been judged incompetent by the courts. He doesn't know what year it is.
For years, the colorful Ballard has titillated Canadians with his outspoken pronouncements and the antics of the cast of characters about him, including his dog and team mascot, T.C. Puck.
The twists in the plot and the characters make the Ballard story a real-life soap opera.
First there is Yolanda Ballard, 57. She is usually described by the press as his longtime live-in companion. She is not his legally married wife. She had her name changed to Ballard in 1988.
Ballard's first and only wife died in 1968 of cancer, leaving him three children: Mary Elizabeth, Harold Jr., and Bill.
The feisty Ballard has battled with his children, and they in turn have battled with Yolanda.
Yolanda calls Ballard's daughter ``Medusa Mary,'' after the mythical snake-haired figure who could turn people to stone.
Last September, Bill Ballard, 42, a concert promoter, was fined $500 for punching Yolanda in the eye.
The assault took place in the studio apartment Ballard lived in at Maple Leaf Gardens. Yolanda says she has been living in the Gardens apartment with Ballard since they met in 1982.
But the Gardens board of directors, who are also well into the fray over control of Ballard's hockey empire, claim Yolanda only moved in in 1988. Before that she slipped in early each morning to make Ballard's breakfast ``to make it look like she was living there,'' says director Donald Crump.
Yolanda has dubbed the directors ``those dirty rotten vultures.''
Ballard met Yolanda shortly after she was out of jail. She had served four months of a two-year sentence in a case involving the forging of a will. The phony will was designed to direct a millionaire's estate to a friend of Yolanda. The friend confessed and got a day in jail.
Yolanda's name then was MacMillan, which was the name of her first husband.
She was a blonde bombshell in her early 20s when she met sedate, old-family lawyer Bill MacMillan in Toronto.
They married and moved to his hometown of Windsor across the border from Detroit.
After two children, the MacMillans were divorced. At the trial, years later when Yolanda was charged in connection with the forging of the will, her ex-husband described her as ``a compulsive liar. Adept at deception. Very persuasive, with manipulative skills. . . . ''
Just after the New Year, Ballard and Yolanda flew to the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean. They were to be married on Jan. 3 and had taken out a marriage license.
Then Ballard got cold feet and backed out of the scheduled ceremony, and the same day took ill and was rushed to hospital.
Then he was flown to Baptist Hospital in Miami where he remains with a bad heart and bad kidneys. If he gets well enough, he'll be flown home.
Meanwhile, Yolanda, his children and the directors of Maple Leaf Gardens are in a highly publicized tussle over control of the Gardens.
His children have obtained a court order restricting Yolanda's visits to Ballard's bedside. The directors have taken control of the hockey team and the children have had a guardian appointed for their father.
``I think it's disgusting, despicable, deplorable and without mercy,'' Yolanda said.
``I think it is an insult to the chairman, the commander in chief and the roaring lion, Harold Ballard, who is still roaring in intensive care.''
And she warned darkly, ``Those who conspire to dig others' graves will end up falling in themselves.''
Recently, Yolanda asked the Gardens directors for some money to feed T.C. Puck. She wanted to buy Kibbles and Bits for the 6-year-old Walt Disney-looking shaggy dog.
Instead the directors took the dog away from her.
Then they repented and arranged for all the bills for the dog's living expenses to be sent to Ballard.
``Puck is going to be well taken care of,'' a Gardens spokesman said. ``I can guarantee you won't see Puck on the street with a cup and pencils.''