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Fight over dog going to court

Barbara Vincent is on an unusual mission: She is suing to get back a dog she is not even sure is hers.

Meanwhile, Alvin Peterson plans to put up a good fight. He says the orphaned dog he adopted last December is legally his _ even if someone claiming to be the previous owner finally has surfaced.

A Pinellas County Animal Control official believes Vincent's lawsuit is the first of its kind. Today, the story will unfold in a Clearwater courtroom.

The witness list includes veterinarians and Animal Control representatives. They will testify whether Vincent's dog and Peterson's dog really are one and the same, and if so, who the rightful owner is.

Vincent's dog, a female Siberian husky named Kiana, disappeared from her family's Safety Harbor home late last summer. When Humane Society employees said a dog matching her description had been put to sleep, Vincent didn't believe them.

So she continued searching. Then in December, she saw a similar-looking dog pictured in a pet adoption feature in the newspaper.

But by the time she got to Animal Control, the dog had been adopted _ by Peterson, of St. Petersburg. She called him and asked to see the dog.

"I told him, "As soon as I see her, I'll know,'

" Vincent, 24, said Tuesday.

"But he will not let me see her. He made it clear that he is the only owner she's had and he's not giving her back to me."

Peterson tells a different story. He maintains that Vincent's descriptions of her dog _ a 10-year-old with blue eyes _ do not match his pet Sasha, who is just 3 years old with brown eyes.

"The characteristics did not fit the dog I had," he said Tuesday, explaining why he has steadfastly refused to allow Vincent to see the animal.

So Vincent sued out of frustration and grief over the absence of her pet of eight years.

"This has been making me sick," she said. "She means more than just an animal. She's a friend, I've always done things with her."

Even if Kiana and Sasha are the same dog, the case also may decide whether a previous owner like Vincent would have legal recourse months after the adoption.

"First of all, it's not the same dog," said Peterson's attorney, Joanne Killeen. "Secondly, if it were her dog, she would have lost all rights to it anyway."

That may be true, according to Dr. Kenny Mitchell, director of Animal Control, who said the dog ownership dispute is the first he has known to go to court. According to Mitchell, the dog was found without identification and was in custody for 15 days before being placed for adoption.

"That's a long time for no owner to come looking at any of the shelters," he said. "Most owners claim their dogs within three days."

Peterson said he hopes the suit will clear the air once and for all.

"I bought this dog fair and square from Pinellas County," he said. "That should have been the end of it. But obviously, it isn't."

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