Puddles, the puppy that came back from the dead, is sent home at last

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The Independent US

Puddles, the winsome looking (and apparently not entirely house-trained) Shih Tsu puppy at the centre of America's most talked about custody struggle, is going home – by orders of the bench.

Those happy tidings come from the courtroom of Judge Richard Terrell, who found himself with the onerous task of adjudicating in a dog-napping story that has made headlines across the land, nay around the world. In the end, he made short shrift of a case he clearly considered a dog's dinner from the start.

"I can't tell you what a spectacle this has been and the multitude of jokes that I've had to hear," he told his courtroom in the Texas town of Alice. "A lot of this is just plain, flat ridiculous." If the jokes were good, he was in no mood to share them. The entire affair has been a bunch of horse Shih Tzu.

The one really in the dog house, however, was Grace Saenz-Lopez. Hers was only a case of puppy love, but it would really have helped if the puppy had been hers. She was the mayor of Alice until February but chose to resign as popular disgust with her Puddles-fixation became too hard to ignore.

This shaggy dog story, in case you haven't heard it already, began last year when Rudy Gutierrez and his wife, Shelly Cavasos, decided to take themselves and their four children on a short family holiday. They entrusted the dog to their kindly neighbour – Mayor Saenz-Lopez.

Then came the shocker. In a phone call one day after they departed, Ms Saenz gently informed them that Puddles had come to grief. She had buried the deceased pooch in her garden. Except that she hadn't. Rather, Puddles, whom by then she had renamed Panchito, had been smuggled away by her sister.

But her canine conspiracy fell apart a few months later when relatives of the Gutierrez-Cavasos family spotted Panchito – sorry, Puddles – enjoying some poochy pampering in an Alice dog groomers. When the owners confronted Ms Saenz-Lopez she flatly refused to return the little fella. Hence the lawsuit.

In theory, Judge Terrell had the whole of Thursday set aside to hear it, but dispensed with the hearing in an irritated two hours only allowing one witness for the defence, Ms Saenz-Lopez herself.

"I've known you to be a big-hearted person," he told the ex-mayor. But he went on: "Regardless of ... how attached you became to that dog, you had no legal right to it." But for Ms Saenz-Lopez, the affair is not quite over. On Tuesday, she will be in court again with her sister facing criminal charges for illegal abduction of a pet.

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