Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

In her first interview since resigning from office Friday, former Mayor Grace Saenz-Lopez said she was relieved the pressure of a recall election is over, and is overwhelmed by the support she has received from around the country.

"I'm pretty much relieved," Saenz-Lopez said Monday. "A lot of people were saying that it was giving Alice a bad image, and that was never my intent."

Saenz-Lopez said in the months since the ongoing Puddles/Panchito controversy gained national attention, she has received numerous cards and letters from people around the country who support her actions.

"It makes me feel good, because it lets me know there's people out there that love animals as much as I do," Saenz-Lopez said. "It does my heart good to know that in this country there's still people who think the way I do and feel the way I do about animals."

Close to home, Saenz-Lopez said she and her sister, Gracy Garcia, had received a gift from a friend in San Diego that particularly touched them. That friend gave the sisters twin Shih Tzu puppies, named Holly and Molly, which they are now raising with Puddles/Panchito.

"We're keeping them together, and they'll be raised in my home together," Saenz-Lopez said. "So there is some good in this. It's bittersweet."

Saenz-Lopez thanked her supporters Monday, and singled out her "spiritual guide" as an especially important influence.

"I want to thank my family, my friends and my supporters for all their prayers and their support. It's been awesome," Saenz-Lopez said. "I just want to thank them, especially my spiritual guide, Sandra Reyna. She has not left my sight."

In an eight-page handwritten letter submitted to the Alice Echo-News Journal this week, Reyna defended Saenz-Lopez's actions throughout the Puddles/Panchito case, and said God had given her a "message" about the controversy.

In her statement, Reyna suggested Saenz-Lopez may have seen "something" with her "unseen eyes" when she told the Gutierrez family the dog had died this summer.

"Could it be that the mayor told a 'lie' to save God's small creature?" Reyna asked. "Only these two families know the full details and will have to live with the full extent of this."

Reyna also said she believed the incident had symbolic meaning.

"The name Puddles, is it symbolic? Is not the Holy Spirit from water?" Reyna said. "God will give us a new name. Coincidence the mayor gave the dog a new name. Coincidence the mayor gave a new life to the dog."

When asked what her plans were now that she was no longer in office, Saenz-Lopez said she, her sister and husband intended to travel "to the mountains somewhere," for a few weeks, but that she would continue to speak for Puddles/Panchito.

"I'm going to be Panchito's voice for as long as I can be," Saenz-Lopez said. "All the Panchitos out there need a voice."