We didn't want her arrested over a dumb dog," says dog groomer Bonnie Baker, whose sharp eyes first spotted her friend's lost Shar-Pei. This is hard to understand. I love dogs, but I'm not going to go to jail over one of them. We figured if she loves animals so much, maybe they should make her do some community service work at the Humane Society."

But justice isn't necessarily humane. Vickie Back is scheduled for trial in Superior Court this summer. Because Hooch has been valued at more than $1,000, this case has been classified as a major felony.

Back expresses surprise anyone would doubt her story that Hooch was not in her apartment when the cops showed up. She says a prosecutor recently offered her a plea bargain to a misdemeanor. She rejected it, Back says, even though she may face prison time because of her felony history. (Her next court appearance is a pretrial hearing scheduled for June 3.)

I have walked a straight line for years," Back says. I am very proud of myself and how well I've done. I'm not going to cop to something I didn't do. I can understand where those people are coming from. They think I stole their dog, but I didn't steal their dog. And the cops are wrong, too."

Hooch hasn't escaped recently. We're keeping a good eye on him," says Sandy Cummings as Hooch hovers nearby around six puppies he sired.

Over at Vickie Back's, a friendly pit bull is sleeping on the kitchen floor. Your new dog, a visitor asks?

No," she says. This guy I know brought him by yesterday, said he was a stray that had been wandering around Mesa. I don't want to keep him because he's got someone out there who's missing him. But I'll take care of him until I can find his owner."

Vickie Back swears she sees the irony.

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