Document shows adoption on hold
The Pinellas Humane Society finds proof its former director agreed to keep dogs rescued after the hurricanes.
By DEMORRIS A. LEE
Published July 13, 2006
CLEARWATER - The Pinellas Humane Society's former director signed a document agreeing to hold dogs rescued after Hurricane Katrina until Nov. 1 last year, society officials said Wednesday.
A board member discovered the document Monday while going through a box in former director Rick Chaboudy's old office, Humane Society attorney Louis Kwall said. Chaboudy, who was the shelter's director for more than 20 years, resigned abruptly in early May.
Kwall said Chaboudy signed the agreement with St. Bernard Parish, where the rescued animals came from on Oct. 5.
Until Monday, Humane Society board members were not aware of the agreement, which gave the shelter ownership of the Katrina dogs after Nov. 1.
The document does not say which dogs the Humane Society agreed to hold, Kwall said. As a result, Kwall was unsure if it's relevant to the dispute between Steven and Dorreen Couture of St. Bernard, La., who have sued to get their dogs back from two Tampa Bay area residents.
"There was no list attached to it," Kwall said. "I'm not sure if it matters."
At the time of the September 2005 rescue and the subsequent adoptions, there was no reason to be concerned about how Katrina animals were being handled, said Jack Geller, the head of the Humane Society's board. Geller said he hasn't spoken to Chaboudy about the letter.
Chaboudy didn't return calls for this article.
The Coutures last week sued the Humane Society, Hillsborough County prosecutor Pam Bondi and Rhonda Rineker of Dunedin, seeking the return of the dogs.
Both Bondi and Rineker contend that they adopted the dogs legally. They also say that the dogs were dying of heart worms before the storm and therefore neglected. That's an accusation that the Coutures vehemently dispute.
Jeff Brown, the Tampa attorney representing Rineker, said Wednesday that Rineker was told that the owners had surrendered the shepherd mix, that she renamed Grace. Brown said Rineker noticed the Coutures' name on paperwork and asked about it.
On the back of the Oct. 28 adoption contract was written: "Per Pat, dog surrendered, owner can not claim dog, dog is ours," Brown said.
Murray Silverstein, the Coutures' St. Petersburg attorney, said everyone knew the two dogs had owners.
"The weakest point is having to argue neglect, which means they are conceding legal ownership to the Coutures," Silverstein said. "There is no such thing as a good-faith adoption when you have knowledge of the owner who can't be reached because he as no phone and his home is destroyed."
Demorris A. Lee can reached at 445-4174 or firstname.lastname@example.org.