By Paula Ebben, WBZ-TVBy Paula Ebben


NORTH ATTLEBORO (CBS) – There’s an international custody battle going on, and it is all over a dog named Coco.

A North Attleboro couple found the animal in Aruba and brought it home, thinking they were saving her from a kill shelter. But now they’re facing a lawsuit.

One side says it’s a dog rescue, while the other calls it a dog-knapping, and the fate of the pet is at stake.

Lisa and Dan O’Connell thought it was a lifesaving deed when they adopted Coco during a visit to Aruba.

“She was dehydrated, she seemed hungry, she seemed sad,” Lisa O’Connell told WBZ-TV.

The dog had no collar or identification, according to Dan. The couple thought the dog was a stray after seeing her several times running free on the beach, and they say she was in bad shape.

“The dog had many ticks on it, its’ paws were raw, either from the hot sand or the hot asphalt,” says Dan.

The O’Connells arranged for a vet to examine the dog and worked with an Aruba animal rescue group to adopt Coco.

“She absolutely looked like a dog that nobody was caring for,” said Lisa.

But not long after getting home, they heard from Cornelia Hajdinyak, who said she’s really the owner of the dog she calls Whitey.  And Hajdinyak said she wants her dog back.

A woman from Aruba has created a Facebook page saying a Mass. couple unlawfully took her dog. (WBZ-TV)

A woman from Aruba has created a Facebook page saying a Mass. couple unlawfully took her dog. (WBZ-TV)

Hajdinyak set up a Facebook page to plead her case saying the dog was well cared for and wearing a collar.

“I do blame you for not giving her back to me. I did offer to cover the expenses you had,” Hajdinyak said.

And Hajdinyak isn’t stopping with the Facebook page. She is suing the O’Connells.

“I’m not sending the dog back. I mean, the reason we brought the dog here was to save the dog, and by sending the dog back I believe the dog’s life would be in jeopardy,” said Lisa.

The O’Connells’ legal costs are already nearly $4,000, so they’ve set up a Go Fund Me page asking for help.

“She’s been a wonderful addition to the family.” says Dan about Coco.

The case is now in an Attleboro court and could go to trial. The local attorney representing the woman in Aruba wouldn’t talk to WBZ-TV on-camera but said Coco, or Whitey, belongs to her and should be returned.

Paula Ebben

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