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A Tail of 2 Names : Dogged Custody Battle Over Barney-Rocky Ends Up on TV

Times Staff Writer

Until Wednesday, the shiny black Labrador retriever that slurps the face of just about anyone who comes within range had two names.

To Kelmar and Darywl Bowden of Long Beach, he was Rocky.

To Beverly and John Holm, who live about a block away from the Bowdens, he was Barney.

The Bowdens said he is the same dog that escaped from their back yard last Jan. 10.

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Searched in Vain

The Holms, who specialize in finding lost animals and returning them to their owners, acknowledged having found the dog on the same day he disappeared from the Bowdens’ yard. The couple said they adopted Barney after searching in vain for his owners. They asserted that there was no proof that the dog was the same one that vanished.

The custody dispute resulted in the Bowdens filing a small claims action in Long Beach Municipal Court against the Holms. The case was unusual enough to attract the attention of the syndicated “People’s Court” television show, which will air the segment on a future date.

Television’s Judge Joseph A. Wapner, in a decision that both sides agreed would be binding, ruled in Hollywood on Wednesday that there was ample evidence to believe that the dog belonged to the Bowdens. The retired Los Angeles Superior Court judge said a dog is personal property under California law and that it should revert to its original owner if found.

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Beverly Holm broke into tears as a bailiff released the playful pooch to the Bowdens.

Rocky--his name now, once and for all--nuzzled Kelmar and Darywl with the same kind of enthusiasm he had displayed toward Beverly and John minutes before.

“We’ll barbecue for the dog and our friends,” a jubilant Darywl Bowden said, describing Rocky’s homecoming.

Then, he said, the dog may have to go on a diet--to lose the extra 20 pounds he has gained.

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“They lied, over and over,” a still-weeping Beverly Holm alleged of the Bowdens as she stepped outside the studio.

Kelmar Bowden said Rocky is an American Kennel Assn.-registered black Labrador retriever that is one of three dogs they own. He had run away previously over the four years they had him but always turned up at the city animal shelter.

Last January was different.

After Rocky disappeared, she said, they made twice-weekly visits to the shelter and put up signs to inform people of the lost dog. But Rocky was no where to be found.

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The Bowdens had all but given up when one of Holm’s relatives walked the 80-pound dog past their house about three weeks ago. They recognized their dog and followed it around the corner to the Holms.

“I was ecstatic,” Kelmar Bowden recalled. “I went in to offer money and thank her. . . . I was just so grateful I had finally found the dog.”

But, she said, the Holms refused to relinquish custody.

The Bowdens then tried going to the Holms’ house with a police officer and even picketed the house last weekend with friends, both to no avail.

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After finding the dog in January, Beverly Holm said she placed ads in newspapers, posted a notice on a telephone pole and took other steps to find the owner.

A retired secretary, she has become known throughout the area as a finder of lost pets. A Long Beach newspaper article about her resulted in $2,000 in donations to buy a personal computer to help in reuniting strays with their owners.

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The Bowdens said they decided to adopt the dog after being assured by a city animal shelter official that they could keep him.

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In the television courtroom Wednesday, Long Beach Animal Control Officer Wayne Besenty said the Labrador was registered to the Bowdens and had been reported missing. He also said the records showed that they had come looking for the dog at the shelter.

Rocky-Barney almost did not have his day in court. The Holms did not bring him to the studio, saying he he is prone to carsickness. Wapner immediately suspended the videotaping and dispatched a station wagon to fetch the dog. In about two hours, the Holms returned with the dog.

“I just didn’t want to have him here, in case we lost him,” Beverly Holm admitted.


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