June 28, 2006

Custody battle looms over New Orleans dogs

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Reuters) - Two dogs that survived
Hurricane Katrina are at the center of a custody battle between
their old owners in New Orleans and their new ones in Florida.

Master Tank and Nila were owned by Steven and Dorreen
Couture of St. Bernard Parish. When Katrina destroyed their
home last year, they had to evacuate and left the dogs at a
local animal shelter.

When the Coutures returned five weeks later, they learned
the dogs had been sent to a shelter near St. Petersburg, where
they were put up for adoption.

The Coutures came to Florida this week trying to get their
dogs back, but the new owners have refused to return the

Steven Couture said at a news conference he might consider
legal action to contest the adoptions.

Pam Bondi, who adopted Master Tank and renamed him Noah,
said the St. Bernard was near death from heartworms when she
got him and is better off with her.

"I know in my heart I did the right thing," Bondi, a state
prosecutor in Tampa, said in a television interview.

The new owner of Nila, a mixed shepherd, declined comment.