Texas mayor quits after admitting dog theft

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The Independent US

The mayor of Alice, a tiny Texas city, has resigned in disgrace after admitting she stole her neighbours' shih tzu and told them it had died.

Grace Saenz-Lopez was rumbled three months later when the dog was booked into a poodle parlour under an assumed name, and it is now at the centre of a custody battle. The third-term mayor fell in love with the puppy, a pure-breed called Puddles, while looking after it during her neighbours' holiday last summer – sending her career on a tragic arc that may yet end up behind bars.

She has been hounded by calls for her resignation since admitting that the dog, which she had renamed Panchito, was indeed the missing Puddles. Along the way, Mayor Saenz-Lopez has lied to the Gutierrez family, to reporters following the mysterious story, and the police. She was charged last month with concealing and tampering with evidence.

Ms Saenz-Lopez and the Gutierrez family go to court this morning to battle for custody of Puddles, which the former mayor says was being neglected by the family. "I do not know what they will decide, but I can tell you that I did at the time what I thought was best for Panchito and what I felt was right in my heart," she wrote in her resignation letter.

Ms Saenz-Lopez told the Gutierrezes that she had buried Puddles, who had died while they were on a weekend break, but when a friend heard that the mayor had dropped off an identical dog at a local grooming parlour, the family became suspicious.

Although she admitted the dogs were one and the same, she refused to hand it back, and local councillors began to fear that her behaviour was becoming more and more odd. At one point, she phoned police to report Panchito missing, pointing the finger at the Gutierrezes, but the puppy was later traced to her identical twin sister's home in nearby Ben Bolt. The sister has also been charged.

Homero Canales, who represents Ms Saenz-Lopez, said at the time of her indictment: "She loves the little dog. She told me that if she were a single woman, she would not care if she went to jail for the rest of her life before she would give the dog back."

City councillors moved this week to have Ms Saenz-Lopez ousted from the post she has held since 2003, concerned that the city of 20,000 inhabitants was attracting national news attention for all the wrong reasons.

Bowing to the inevitable, she apologised and resigned. "I am proud to have served the greatest citizens in the world, the citizens of Alice," she wrote. "It was never my intent to bring any negative exposure to our city."

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