Hearing was supposed to have been held Friday to determine ownership

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

A dog at the center of a controversy involving Mayor Grace Saenz-Lopez was released to her by a local grooming shop last week, leading officials to cancel a scheduled court hearing on the issue Friday.

The dog, a Shitzu, had been housed at Linda's Grooming for nearly two weeks, after allegations were raised that Saenz-Lopez stole the dog from a neighbor.

In June, Rudy Gutierrez and his family allegedly asked Saenz-Lopez to watch the dog, which was ill and on medication at the time, while the family went on vacation. While the family was gone, Saenz-Lopez allegedly told them the dog had died.

On Oct. 31, a friend of Rudy Gutierrez informed him she had seen the dog at Linda's Grooming, and the family verified with the grooming shop owners that Saenz-Lopez had dropped the dog off.

After numerous attempts to contact Saenz-Lopez, Gutierrez filed a police report listing the dog as stolen and identifying the mayor as a suspect.

That report was forwarded to the county attorney's office, but county attorney Jesusa Sanchez-Vera declined to prosecute the case, listing it as a "civil matter."

On Nov. 9, the Alice Police Department forwarded information to the office of Pct. 1 Justice of the Peace, requesting a property hearing to determine to whom the dog should be released.

According to information from the office of the justice of the peace, Linda Brandt, the owner of Linda's Grooming, was sent a letter on Nov. 9 summoning her to appear in court Friday to establish ownership of the dog.

On Friday, Judge Jose Rodriguez said he cancelled the hearing after he learned that Brandt had released the dog back to Saenz-Lopez early last week.

"The purpose of the hearing today was moot," Rodriguez said. "She already released the dog back to the mayor."

Rodriguez said he currently has no other issues regarding the case pending before him, and no suit has been filed questioning ownership.

On Friday, Homero Canales, the attorney representing Saenz-Lopez, issued a notice objecting to the jurisdiction of the Justice of the Peace Court in the matter.

In a document filed with the Justice of the Peace Friday, Canales said that any hearing in the court would violate Saenz-Lopez's constitutional rights.

Canales also included remarks referencing a protest that was held before city hall last Monday by supporters of Gutierrez.

"Rudy Gutierrez has legal avenues and forums for relief," Canales wrote. "Picketing city hall, and basking in the light of the news media, although enjoyable to him, will not bring relief."