In an interview Thursday on NBC's "Today" show, ex-mayor Grace Saenz-Lopez said she had taken Puddles
-- whom she renamed Panchito -- to protect a dog because she believed he was being neglected.
"I didn't steal the dog. I did not return him to save his life," said Saenz-Lopez, who was indicted Jan. 18 on two felony charges related to the alleged dognapping. As she spoke, the former mayor cuddled Puddles/Panchito in her lap.
The dispute began in July when Puddles' original owners, Rudy Gutierrez and Shelly Cavazos, asked Saenz-Lopez, their next door neighbor, to take care of him while they were on vacation. When they called to check on him, Saenz-Lopez told them Puddles had died and was buried in her backyard.
However, three months later, a relative of the neighbors saw the pet at a dog groomer. When Saenz-Lopez refused to return the dog, the family filed a criminal complaint and a civil lawsuit against her.
Saenz-Lopez later reported the dog missing, only to have Puddles/Panchito turn up at the home of the mayor's twin sister. Saenz-Lopez resigned as mayor on Feb. 1, after a recall petition was circulated in the South Texas town of fewer than 20,000 residents.
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Cavazos, who also appeared on the "Today" show with Gutierrez and their attorney, said she left Puddles with Saenz-Lopez because "I trusted her. I knew he was sick. I never thought this would happen."
At the time, the dog was suffering from a severe flea infestation and a reaction to the chemicals used to treat him.
"We're animal lovers, too," said Cavazos, whose family is still trying to get Puddles back.
Last week, a judge in Alice declined to give the Gutierrez family temporary custody of the dog pending trial in April, saying they had not shown the required need for "extraordinary relief."
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