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Dog gets new identity

New owners adopt a scarred Lab, naming him for Barney Fife: "He's so sweet - and a little confused."

[Times photo: Janel Schroeder-Norton]
Many stepped up to adopt the lost black Labrador, but Mario and Nancy DeFranca of Spring Hill were chosen as his new owners.

By CHASE SQUIRES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 30, 2002

SAN ANTONIO -- It's been a long, strange trip, but Barney the dog is going home.

Barney's story began earlier this month when he was found wandering in Zephyrhills, dehydrated and lost. His tale became a mystery when a veterinarian determined the black Labrador retriever had a complicated medical history that included extensive surgery and possibly some "neurological damage."

In other words, his mental state was a bit off, probably the result of a run-in with a car. Someone, the vet determined, had spent a lot of money to patch the dog up, and then lost him.

After searching for his owner, the team at San Antonio's Veterinary Home Health Care weren't sure what to do and went public with his case, hoping to return him home.

His original owner never stepped forward, but plenty of kindhearted Pasco County residents did.

"We had two pages of people, all wanting to adopt him," veterinary technician Krystal Harris said Saturday.

Mario and Nancy DeFranca won out. The Spring Hill couple adopted the dog on Tuesday.

"We named him Barney, like Barney Fife," Mrs. DeFranca said. "He's so sweet -- and a little confused."

The couple said Barney fit right in at their home with his new brothers, Labrador retrievers Ben, 13, and Casey, 5. They believe Barney is about 2 years old, because he still acts like puppy.

True, they said, he has his quirks, probably the result of a past injury that left a large dent in his skull and surgical scars that run from his throat to his groin. He walks in circles a lot, and he's a little simple. But that's part of his charm, they said.

"Just being around him, you get attached to him so fast," DeFranca said. "When you see his face, you just want to help him."

"After all he's been through, he's still so optimistic and sweet," his wife said. "You'd think he would be skittish, but he's not. He's a little clumsy, but then Labs are clumsy. We think he's just a little extra Lab."

The couple had to interview with the veterinary team before they won the chance to adopt Barney. They brought in photos of their other dogs, their cats, their home and the run they have set up for their animals. They traveled across the county to meet him. They played with him at the San Antonio office. And finally they were chosen.

DeFranca said the dog's good nature won his heart.

"We have no kids, so these are our kids," his wife said.

"He's not going to win a beauty contest," DeFranca said. "But he needs a home."

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