Pictured: Gutierrez family members were once again removed from council chambers after trying to address the council. Photo by CHRISTOPHER MAHER

Family wants Puddles returned

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

The family that originally owned Puddles, a dog that was allegedly stolen by Alice Mayor Grace-Saenz Lopez earlier this year, filed a lawsuit in district court Thursday in an effort to get the dog back.

The lawsuit was filed in the 79th District Court Thursday by attorney Ruben Bonilla, on behalf of Rodolfo "Rudy" Gutierrez and Shelly Gutierrez.

The lawsuit details allegations that the Gutierrez family purchased the full-breed shih tzu in July of this year, and asked the mayor to watch the dog while they were on vacation. While they were on vacation, the mayor told the family the dog had died.

In October, the family learned the dog was still alive and had been kept by Saenz-Lopez, who renamed the dog "Panchito."

The causes of action listed in the suit include conversion, fraud, fraudulent misrepresentation, fraud by disclosure, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence.

The lawsuit alleges Saenz-Lopez "intentionally and with malice committed fraud," and made statements to the family claiming the dog was deceased "recklessly and with knowledge that there was no truth to them."

The lawsuit demands the immediate and safe return of Puddles, compensation for legal fees, court costs and exemplary damages.

"This is about more than the dog-gone case. Defendant, Grace Saenz-Lopez, was elected by the citizens of Alice, Texas, to serve as mayor, not as a dog catcher," the lawsuit states. "Not only is it blatantly illegal for the defendant, Grace Saenz-Lopez to keep Puddles, it is inhumane to withhold the puppy from his rightful owners - honest, warm-hearted people who spent their hard-earned money to buy Puddles, and who have repeatedly pleaded with defendant, Grace Saenz-Lopez, to return the puppy to their loving home and into the eager arms of their young children."

During Thursday's Alice City Council meeting, relatives of the Gutierrez family tried for the second consecutive meeting to discuss the issue during the "hearing of visitors" portion of the meeting, but were escorted out of the council chambers.

Cecilia Martinez and Zulema Chapa attempted to read statements addressed to the council as a whole, but were not permitted to speak by City Attorney Joe Torres III, Saenz-Lopez and City Manager Albert Uresti.

Both women, along with several other family members, were escorted by the Alice Police Department out of the council chambers and were not allowed to speak.

Outside the council chambers, Martinez said had intended to direct her comments to the council members about their behavior as representatives of the city.

"Frankly, Alice has become the laughingstock and not the hub of South Texas," Martinez said in her statement. "You as a group have remained mum on this issue since its beginning."

Shelly Gutierrez, who also attended the meeting with her three children, said Thursday Saenz-Lopez's attorney, Homero Canales, has made an offer to purchase another dog for the family as settlement of the issue, but the family just wants Puddles back.

"We're not just doing this because she's the mayor, but if it had been somebody else we would already have him back," Gutierrez said. "We just want to get him back."