Bench trial set for April 24

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

Both sides in the ongoing Puddles/Panchito controversy found out they will have to wait until spring to learn the final fate of the dog, after District Judge Richard Terrell set a trial date for April on the case Monday.

Attorneys for Grace Saenz-Lopez and the Gutierrez family were scheduled to argue motions before the judge Monday, but when called upon by Terrell, both sides withdrew their motions.

Attorneys for the Gutierrez family withdrew a motion for a writ of attachment, in which they had asked the dog be placed with the family while the lawsuit is pending.

Homero Canales, the attorney for Saenz-Lopez also withdrew his motion that had asked for special exceptions under which the case should be thrown out.

Although those motions were withdrawn, the trial for the case was set for April 24.

A cross-claim filed by Canales against the Gutierrez family, claiming they abandoned the dog by giving it to Saenz-Lopez in poor health, is still pending. Canales said Monday the purpose of that cross-claim was to establish a legal basis of ownership over the dog for his client.

"The basis of my lawsuit is there needs to be a legal permissibility for Grace to claim and assert ownership," Canales said. "If there is a jury finding that it was abandoned in fact, then I can assert legally her right of ownership."

Rudy Gutierrez, the original owner of the dog who brought the lawsuit against the now-former mayor, said Monday he expected to leave the hearing with the dog.

"We thought there was going to be something resolved, as far as us getting the property back in our hands," Gutierrez said. "That was a little bit disappointing, because I know our kids were asking if we were going to have it by the time we got home today. Unfortunately, it didn't go that way."

Following the hearing, Saenz-Lopez said she was not surprised to leave the court with the dog still in her custody.

"I didn't know what to expect," Saenz-Lopez said. "But I had a gut feeling deep down in my heart that he would be staying with me for some reason."

Although no arguments were heard during the hearing, an argument was apparently heard in the hallway. Saenz-Lopez and Gutierrez exchanged words with each other in the hallway, with both sides claiming the other initiated the conversation.

"Mr. Gutierrez made a threat against me that he's going to get me, so I intend to file a police report," Saenz-Lopez said. "He said to me, 'I'm going to get you, girl.'"

Gutierrez would not comment on what was said, but admitted that words were exchanged. Any comment that was made was initiated by Saenz-Lopez, Gutierrez said.

By Tuesday morning, an incident report had been filed at the Alice Police Department by Gutierrez, but no statement had been submitted by Saenz-Lopez.

After the hearing Monday, Saenz-Lopez stated in an interview that Puddles/Panchito had been placed in a veterinary clinic over the weekend with symptoms of vomiting and intestinal issues. She said the animal was diagnosed with an inflamed lymph node and was placed on antibiotics and a special diet.

"He's going to be tended to very carefully by me and my husband and, of course, my sister," Saenz-Lopez said. "If I get to keep him, he'll get the best medical care that he needs. He's a very delicate, small little guy, and he needs a lot of attention and a lot of care."

Gutierrez questioned Saenz-Lopez's statements Monday.

"We left that dog in July of last summer in her care, and now this dog has died, gone missing and now is sick. I don't know what to think. I don't know how that lady is handling this dog, or what real health it's in," Gutierrez said. "Depending on how you look at it, this thing gets more serious as the days go by, or really comical."