Dog dilemma has people howling

Posted: Friday, June 04, 2004

A two-year debate between two Kenai Peninsula residents claiming ownership to the same dog appears to have come to an impasse for both parties.

The story began in August 2002, when Kenai resident April Woodworth's energetic puppy, a husky mix named Coco, wanted to play.

Woodworth's young son the dog's primary play pal was away for the weekend on a camping trip. So Woodworth played with Coco for about an hour, then chained the dog to the run in the back yard so it could burn off more energy. She went inside the house and an hour later when she returned to check on Coco, she found the dog was gone.

The stake in the ground holding the chain had not been pulled, nor had the chain the dog was attached to been broken.

"It looked like someone had stolen her," said Woodworth.

She frantically began searching for the family pet.

"I walked the neighborhood hollering for her. My husband and I drove through Kenai and Soldotna searching for her for days. We put up posters and asked everyone we knew to look for her. We reported her missing to the pound, made announcements on Dog Gone News and checked the ads in the newspaper repeatedly," she said.

Woodworth and her family never stopped hoping, but as weeks turned into months, they began to fear they may never see Coco again.

A year passed. Then while attending Industry Appreciation Day in Kenai, the Woodworths had their hope restored. Through the crowd, across the grass lawn, Woodworth saw a woman Melissa Knight sitting with a dog that looked exactly like Coco.

Woodworth approached Knight and explained how she had lost her dog, and that she believed that the dog with Knight might be Coco. However, according to Woodworth, Knight related that she had gotten the dog as a puppy and raised it herself.

"I knew the dog in front of me was in fact Coco, no mistake," said Woodworth.

According to Woodworth, Knight's daughter heard the two women discussing the dog and made a comment correcting her mother's statement. "She said 'No, Mom. Remember we found her and she was all dirty and smelly,'" claims Woodworth.

Unable to reach a solution, the two women went their separate ways, but not before Woodworth obtained Knight's phone number. Later that evening Woodworth's husband called the Knight residence and offered $1,000 for the dog, and to compensate for the time it had been cared for. Knight refused the offer.

It continued to escalate as Woodworth called state troopers in an attempt to get the dog back, and in January of 2004 the situation made its way into Kenai District Court.

"I didn't want this to get ugly," said Woodworth. "I understand (Knight) loves Coco, but that dog belongs to my little boy, and he asked me to do everything I could to get Coco back."

In court, Knight testified that the dog was not the same one lost by Woodworth, but did state that her daughter had found the animal as a stray.

Knight has not returned phone messages or e-mails and declined to tell her side of the story for this article.

Magistrate George Peck ordered that a "doggy" DNA test be performed. Hair from Coco on a blanket that Woodworth had kept in the hope the dog one day would return was to be taken to a local veterinary hospital serving as a secure third party. Knight was to bring the dog in her possession to the same veterinarian so that a hair sample could be collected for comparison.

The test would conclusively determine if the dog in Knight's possession was Coco.

After three months, several missed veterinary appointments and numerous "Request and Order" forms filed by Woodworth to enforce Knight's cooperation, the two women found themselves in front of a judge again on April 30.

In court, Knight testified she no longer had the dog, claiming it had run away in Anchorage while staying at a pet boarding facility. Magistrate David Landry ordered that unless the dog could be produced within two weeks for DNA testing, he would rule in favor of the Woodworth and Knight would be responsible for paying the $4,000 amount of the claim, half of the amount of the maximum loss allowably claimed in small claims court.

Those two weeks have passed and still no sign of the dog. Woodworth said that she will continue to press this matter in court until she receives just compensation. However, she said getting the money will bring no closure to her family's life.

"It's not about the money, and never was. It was just about getting my little boy's dog back," she said.

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