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Families won't feud over dog's ownership

(ran SS edition of Metro & State)

The original owners say they will let the dog's newest family keep the animal instead of asking for its return.

The gremlin-like, 10-pound dog Joyce Bessinger plucked out of a pet store five years ago was her "baby" until Bessinger gave birth to her youngest child last October.

At that point, Bessinger admits, the half Chihuahua, half Pekingese slipped a notch, sort of like Lady in Lady and the Tramp. Babbling baby Emily, with her light brown hair and dark green eyes, reigned supreme.

One day in March, Bessinger was feeding the baby when the dog, named Nala, scratched at the back door to come in. Bessinger said she ignored Nala and, eventually, Nala made a half circle and began to scratch at the front door where she was once again ignored.

"When I finally went to the door, she was gone," Bessinger said. "I was devastated."

For days, she searched local animal shelters. Well-meaning friends would say, "Oh, but you have the baby now."

But Bessinger was heart broken.

Then Monday, as she waited at the Stirling Recreation Center for her daughter, Tina, a summer camp junior counselor, she saw a car drive past and pull into the parking lot with Nala peering out the window.

"I said, "Oh, my god,' and yelled for Tina," Bessinger said.

The stranger in the car was Lorraine DeCuzzi, who had come to pick up her grandson, Jonathan DeCuzzi, also a summer camp junior counselor.

And the dog in the front seat was indeed Nala, only now she had a new name, Chloe.

"That's my dog," Joyce Bessinger said to the woman.

"No it's not," Lorraine DeCuzzi said.

But once on the ground, Nala-Chloe made a dash for Tina Bessinger, whose bed she had shared for five years.

It seems when the dog ran away, she traveled at least eight miles to Crystal Beach where a friend of the DeCuzzis found her wandering around a street. The man took her to his home and placed posters all over that area attempting to find the owner. When no one claimed the dog, the man gave her to his friends, the DeCuzzis.

DeCuzzi said when she realized the Bessingers were the original owners, she panicked realizing she might lose the beloved pet she'd had for four months. "We've got a problem," she said to Bessinger.

"No, we don't," Bessinger said.

As the two families pieced together their Nala-Chloe stories, Bessinger said she realized her former pet was living in what would have to be a dog's perfect world. A nurse, DeCuzzi bakes three garlic cloves a day for the dog, placing them in cheese crackers to treat skin problems. She gives the dog steam baths for an eye condition and rubs its back with special oils.

The dog, Bessinger decided, would belong to the DeCuzzis.

"I sent her leash, her tags and her comb to Jonathan at camp," Bessinger said. Although her former pet was delighted to see Tina, Bessinger said the dog barely acknowledged her presence. "I think she's still mad at me."