Mayor of Alice, Texas Accused of Stealing Neighbors' Shih Tzu Puddles
Just when you think it can't get any weirder, you read a story like this one...
Thanks to the Houston Chronicle for this article.
Shaggy dog story of the year
By RICK CASEY
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
Texas has no shortage of public officials who have crossed legal and ethical lines.
But Mayor Grace Saenz-Lopez of Alice, a town of 19,000 located about 45 miles west of Corpus Christi, may have done something so low as to break new political ground.
She is accused of stealing the puppy of a neighborhood family.
And through a time-tested political technique: lying to them while making them think she had done them a favor.
The story, as detailed over the past weeks in the Alice Echo-News Journal, began last summer when the Gutierrez family decided to buy a puppy. More specifically, it decided on one of those cute little perambulating dust mops known as a Shih Tzu.
The four children were delighted and all was well, but then the puppy, named "Puddles" for reasons we can only surmise, took sick.
The veterinarian gave Puddles a shot and a prescription of pills, and sent him home with the Gutierrez family.
But the family was going on vacation, so father Rudy Gutierrez asked his neighbor, Grace Saenz-Lopez, who happens to be the mayor of Alice, to take care of Puddles.
She said OK, despite the dog's name.
A few days later, Gutierrez called Mayor Saenz-Lopez to check in on Puddles.
The mayor had bad news:
Puddles is dead.
Talk about a vacation spoiler! Especially for the children.
But in late October, Gutierrez ran into the person who sold him the dog. That person had been over to Linda's Grooming and had seen a dog that was the spitting image of Puddles.
Imagine the Gutierrezes' shock when Linda Brandt herself told them that the dog, whom she knew as "Panchito," had been dropped off by the mayor.
When the mayor would not return their calls, the Gutierrezes filed a police report accusing her of stealing Puddles.
"None of this would have happened if she just would have answered her phone and we would have talked about it," Gutierrez told the Echo-News Journal. "We tried numerous times to call her and she would not answer her phone."
The Gutierrez family, however, won't get much help from law enforcement. After a few days, Jim Wells County Attorney Jesusa Sanchez-Vera decided it was "a civil matter."
"We see it as a bailee/bailor relationship," Sanchez-Vera told me. "You entrust an item to somebody and she didn't return it back. It's not like she went across to their property and took the dog without their permission."
Based on this official opinion, I recommend to the good citizens of Jim Wells County that they get their cars repaired across the line in Nueces County.
If the mechanic tells you somebody stole your car and you find him driving it, you won't be able to go to the police. You'll need to pay a lawyer to get it back.
The Gutierrez family, their relatives and friends haven't sued yet. They have mounted demonstrations featuring signs such as "Alice Mayor Is a Crook" and "Mayor = Cruella Deville" a reference to the villain of 101 Dalmations.
They also tried to confront the mayor during a "visitors portion"of a city council meeting. Mayor Saenz-Lopez ruled that the Puddles/Panchito controversy was "a private matter" and had the police remove the would-be speakers from the meeting.
The mayor is not speaking to reporters either. Her lawyer, Romero Canales, did return my call, however. He admitted that the mayor had, to paraphrase Mark Twain, exaggerated the condition of the dog to the Gutierrez family.
"She happens to be the mayor of the city of Alice, but she's also very concerned about animal rights," he said. "She's got a soft heart. They asked her to take the dog to the vet. It was in real bad shape. She felt it was going to die.
"Grace made the mistake of telling them the dog was dead. She was determined that if she returned it to them it would die."
"I told her to buy them another dog, and she said, 'No, if I get them another dog, it would die,' " he said.
I asked if there was evidence the family had abused the dog, but Canales said he'd been in trial for two weeks and hadn't developed the case.
"Legally, maybe she shouldn't have done this, but I would have done the same thing," he said. He said he hopes a judge will order the family to accept a reasonable cash settlement from the mayor.