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Pets' past can lead to emotional tug-of-war

Published March 15, 2007


Two dogs in the middle of a high-profile legal battle over their ownership weren't the only animals displaced by Hurricane Katrina and brought to the Tampa Bay area.

Just the most famous.

The St. Bernard and the shepherd mix were among 288 dogs, cats and turtles brought to Pinellas by the Humane Society of Pinellas after the storm devastated the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts.

Most of the animals brought here were adopted; a few were returned. And some of the people involved with the rescued animals offer differing views of what they would do if the original owners stepped forward to claim their pets, as plaintiffs Steven and Dorreen Couture of St. Bernard Parish, La., did when they tracked their dogs to the bay area, only to learn they had been adopted.

The Coutures are suing Pam Bondi of Tampa, Rhonda Rineker of Dunedin and the Humane Society of Pinellas in an effort to get their dogs back. The trial is set for April.

Tim Boller of Largo understands the anguish of all sides in the case. He and his wife, Jen, adopted a beagle from the Humane Society of Pinellas in October 2005. Boller said he was told that the dog, which he named Sweet Pea, was found on a roof in St. Bernard Parish, La.

"If someone came after Sweet Pea right now, no chance I would give him up. No chance," said Boller, 36.

Nancy Dively of Tarpon Springs went to Tylertown, Miss., shortly after the hurricane, in September 2005, to help with the animals left behind when their owners evacuated. She brought back three dogs and later returned one to its original owners.

"When I was there, I gave my word to the Humane Society of Louisiana that I wouldn't just go and take the dogs and start finding new homes," she said. "I promised that I would try and reconnect the dogs with their owners."

Dively kept the other two dogs for several months before they were adopted.

Last November, Jeremy and Tiffany Mansfield of Clearwater returned a Jack Russell terrier to Vic Marino. The Mansfields adopted the dog from the Humane Society of Pinellas in December 2005. Marino, of Chalmette, La., tracked the dog to Pinellas and had a lawyer file a complaint with the Pinellas County Department of Justice and Consumer Services in July 2006.

According to a log given to Pinellas County Animal Services last March, about 140 of the 286 animals brought here by the Humane Society were adopted, five died and about 25 were returned to their original owners.

Krista Braden of Tarpon Springs, who adopted a beagle from the Humane Society of Pinellas in September 2005, said one factor to consider is how the original owners cared for the animal.

Another factor is time.

"After you have had them for a certain amount of time, they become a part of your family," said Mike Howard of Clearwater, who adopted a border collie-shepherd mix from the Humane Society of Pinellas in January 2006.

"I would want my dog back, too, but a year down the road, the dog has moved on. It has bonded with a new family."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or

Fast Facts:

Where it stands

Steven and Dorreen Couture's lawsuit against Pam Bondi of Tampa and Rhonda Rineker of Dunedin over the ownership of two dogs is scheduled to go to trial the week of April 16.

[Last modified March 15, 2007, 00:11:16]

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