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    Who has dibs on this dog?

    One family has more than a bone to pick with another. That Boston terrier is ours, they say.

    By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 20, 2003

    PINELLAS PARK -- Just whose dog is Chispita? Or is it Dona Rosa?

    To hear Enid Colon tell it, Chispita is her precious black and white Boston terrier with an underbite and a troublesome skin problem.

    [Special to the Times]
    Enid Colon's family lost Chispita in late December
    Her family says Chispita was like a child to the 62-year-old grandmother, who used to buy little sweaters for the dog and watch soap operas with her.

    To hear Milton Cruz tell it, Dona Rosa is the dog he rescued from a busy street. He says he took the dog to the Pinellas County Animal Services to reunite her with her family. When no one claimed the dog, he and his family adopted her.

    "She is a wonderful little dog and we all fell in love with her. Whenever anybody comes home, she's all over them," said Cruz, 47.

    The question of who owns Chispita, or Dona Rosa, has become an emotional battle between neighbors who live a few blocks from one another. Police have been called. Extra patrols have been requested, and members of one family have been ordered not to harass the other.

    For now, Chispita remains with her new family.

    * * *

    The Colons say Chispita was a favorite with neighborhood children. Sometimes, she wandered through the unlocked front gate, past the roosters pecking in the garden.

    Always, though, the little dog came home, until one day in late December. The Colons say they reported her missing to the animal shelters and called regularly to see if she had been found.

    "A month went by and we gave up," said Steven Colon, a son.

    Then, on Sunday, Mrs. Colon and her husband, Esteban, were driving to the store when they noticed a dog resembling Chispita in a neighbor's yard.

    They approached the dog and asked her to roll over, a favorite trick of Chispita's. The dog complied, and the Colons began to explain that this was their long-lost Chispita.

    [Times photo: Fred Victorin]
    Riva Cruz's family adopted Dona Rosa in early January
    Cruz wasn't buying it.

    He said the dog, which he called Dona Rosa, was nearly hit crossing the street near his home. He took her out of harm's way, he said, and into his fenced front yard.

    "She came in. She was really friendly. I held her for a while and took her to the animal shelter. She had no collar on," he said.

    Cruz let employees at Pinellas County Animal Services know that he wanted to adopt the dog if no one claimed her. He did not want her to be euthanized. When no one claimed the pet, he was allowed to adopt her on Jan. 4.

    Cruz believes Dona Rosa was heaven-sent.

    "I had a dog once before that passed away. For about a year now, my daughter has been asking me when we are going to get a dog," he said.

    He is upset by the Colons' behavior. They came to his house and demanded the dog. They should have searched more earnestly for the pet, he said.

    "If they had done that, they would have found her," he said.

    Cruz said he and his family kept looking to see if anyone had put notices of a lost Boston terrier in the newspapers or around their neighborhood.

    "After three or four weeks of that, they had abandoned her as far as I was concerned," he said.

    Greg Andrews, operations manager for Pinellas County Animal Services, said the shelter had no hesitation about letting Cruz adopt the dog. He said animal services officials don't recall any conversations with the Colon family, but they get hundreds of calls and advise callers to come in and check. He said they keep no record of all the calls.

    "Unfortunately for the previous owner, when the pet came into our care, there was no indication that it had an owner. . . . It was not wearing a tag. It was not wearing a collar. It did not have a microchip."

    This week, as Mrs. Colon sat in her tiny living room, she sadly displayed pictures of Chispita. Her children say their mother's doctor had recommended a pet as therapy for her "nervous condition."

    "When the dog was first missing, she cried," said the son, Steven Colon. "She went through the neighborhood calling, hoping she would find it."

    Both sides have complained to police. The Cruz family has asked for extra police patrols, fearing harassment. The Colons, who initially called police to report that the Cruz family had their dog, have been ordered not to harass the new owners.

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