The Case of the Homeless Hound

A man and his dog have been apart because a do-gooder unleashed a legal barrage over ownership of a Labrador retriever. Now the canine in contention has vanished.

Rosemarie Testa, who owns two businesses in the plaza, is outraged that someone can take away a pet just because that person imagines it may be mistreated. There was no evidence produced in either trial to substantiate claims the dog was mistreated.

"We are all just one phone call away from these people," Testa says, seriously concerned. She has pets and is a smoker, and she wonders if "these people" would try to take her animals away for fear of secondhand smoke danger. "It's really frightening."

Francis insists she's not fighting Kiluk because of his lifestyle. She's worried about Three, worried about what happens to her when Kiluk passes out from drink, concerned for Three's safety, living so close to busy 17th Street.

"Because he's homeless, everybody felt sorry for him," Francis says. "I sure did. What I learned is that just because somebody's homeless doesn't mean you have to feel sorry for him, because sometimes they are mean, nasty people."

Francis asserts that Three was dirty and cold and not well fed when subsisting under the bridge with Kiluk. Francis has accused Kiluk of siccing the dog on people when he's been drinking and when he gets in fights.

Claiming she is the rightful owner, Francis has sued. According to court documents, Three was dropped off as a pup at Martha Yarbrough's home, where Kiluk lived at the time. When Kiluk left he took the dog. No receipt was made at the time, nor was any promise of care or intention of ownership mentioned.

"I own the dog," Francis insists. "The dog was given to me by the owner. Rick stole the dog from the owner."

The battle for custody of Three began on a chilly night in February. According to interviews with several plaza tenants, this is what happened: A drunk Kiluk, serving as the self-appointed traffic monitor in the plaza's parking lot, refused to let someone park in a particular spot he was saving for someone else. Thinking Kiluk was going to get arrested, another shop owner called Francis to pick up Three. Francis took the dog, though Kiluk hadn't been arrested. Kiluk went to Francis' house and demanded his dog. Francis refused, and police again were called. This time Kiluk was arrested for disorderly conduct.

That's when Francis turned the dog over to the Pet Owners Alliance, which handles many of Broward and Dade counties' calls for lost and found pets. The Alliance, wanting to return the dog to its owner, began checking records from the animal's identification tattoo. The tattoo indicated that Three is registered to someone who has since moved to California, another well-meaning woman who paid for Three's spaying, Fach says. The dog went to foster care and the silk sheets.

A judge gave Kiluk temporary custody in March, as long as Kiluk licensed and leashed the dog and kept her in Broward County. As the temporarily victorious Kiluk walked out of the courtroom, waiting police arrested him on an outstanding warrant for not showing up in court on a previous citation for not having the dog on a leash. When he got out of jail, he violated the judge's order and took the dog with him to visit his mother in New Hampshire.

While he was traveling, Francis and her attorneys convinced a judge that Yarbrough, Kiluk's ex-girlfriend, owned Three and wanted her back. The New Hampshire police responded to an all-points bulletin to be on the lookout for a man who stole a dog from Florida. Kiluk was arrested at his mother's house, and Francis flew to New Hampshire to retrieve Three. (Francis says Yarbrough no longer wants Three and has given the dog to her.)

Kiluk hasn't seen Three since his New Hampshire arrest. Legal orders were haggled over during the summer, and finally, in late September, a judge ruled that Kiluk should get the dog within ten days. Francis' lawyers filed a plea on the tenth day to rehear the custody case, so returning the dog was put on hold.

Round Three (no pun intended) begins this month before County Court Judge Zebedee Wright to determine if the custody issue should be reheard. Even though Francis says Three is lost, she wants to pursue the lawsuit for custody because she's somehow hopeful that the dog will be found.

"It's not a case of whether or not homeless people should have pets," Francis says. "It's a matter that he's chosen to take someone else's dog. It's not his dog. It never was. Let him get another dog... It's not fair to take somebody else's dog and pretend it's yours."

That's exactly what Kiluk says. He's had the pup since it was five weeks old. About 200 people who know Kiluk and Three signed a petition last spring, many insisting Kiluk took better care of the dog than he did of himself.

"It's hard for me," Kiluk says, his rough, scarred fingers wrapped around yet another cigarette. "I just have to wait it out, I guess. And I worry about her." He's referring to Three.

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