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“She basically got caught up in an emotional dog rescue. That’s what this was,” said the defense attorney. “Miss Vukov, yes, took the dog.”

Although Trina Vukov took the dog without permission, she had no intent to steal, according to her attorney William Mathews. “She had completely different motives.”

Elvis in Escondido

The dog’s owner is a California attorney named Steven Afghani. The dog is a Belgian Malinois imported from the Czech Republic. Afghani purchased the dog in 2008 through a kennel in Tar Heel, North Carolina, which he found in an internet search. When Afghani bought the dog, he was named Emil, but Afghani changed his name to Elvis. Afghani paid $5500 for Elvis, then $350 more to have him shipped from North Carolina to his new home in Orange County.

Evidence photo of Steven Afghani with his new dog Elvis.

Evidence photo of Steven Afghani with his new dog Elvis.

The Malinois is bred for police and military work and to compete in European dog sports: French Ring, Belgium Ring, Mondioring, Schutzhund. In French Ring competitions, which are held in Southern California, dogs are judged on obedience, agility, and protection. Dogs are trained to attack a man in a bite suit, called a decoy. An example of the demanding training that is tested in Ring III, the highest level, is “object guard,” in which the dog should attack the decoy, but only when he comes within one meter of a basket the dog is guarding.

Afghani began to train Elvis for competition with the help of a professional trainer, Philippe Belloni, who lives in Escondido. In early August 2010, after both men had tired of commuting between their homes, Afghani left Elvis at his trainer’s house. About two weeks later, Belloni called to say that Elvis had been stolen.

The Trainer

Philippe Belloni speaks with a heavy accent. “I train dog. I train the dog for the police, for the military.” Belloni enjoys status as a dog trainer in Europe. “I was champion France five years.”

Professional dog trainer Philippe Belloni testified during the jury trial.

Professional dog trainer Philippe Belloni testified during the jury trial.

On his website, Belloni states that he worked with canine units in France who protect Paris subways and the Paris–Charles de Gaulle Airport. After the 9/11 attack, the United States gave him a visa so he could share his expertise with the United States military, police departments, and pet owners, Belloni states.

Belloni said he sells dogs to the Oceanside Police Department.

Afghani met Belloni at a public dog-training event some years ago. Belloni said he sold two dogs to Afghani, one for $5000 and one for $3500, and Belloni worked with Afghani to train the dogs.

While Elvis stayed in Escondido, Belloni’s girlfriend said she fed him “a big bowl of dry food at night.”

Belloni denied that he allows dogs in his care to be “skinny.” He said, “We can’t have the dog skinny or the dog fat. We can’t.” He said he wants his dogs at “what I call athletic.”

The Dog in a Hole

It was a hot August day when Trina Vukov and her two teenaged girls drove out to Belloni’s home to pick up a check. Even at four in the afternoon, it was 85 degrees. Not a wisp of breeze, not a cloud in the sky.

Belloni’s home and dog-training facility is located in the 3100 block of East Valley Parkway. Large, shady trees surround the modest house and its rough asphalt drive.

Vukov, who was 47, had arranged with Belloni to rent rooms in his house and had left a deposit with him. But he had backed out of the deal.

Vukov walked to the front door to retrieve her deposit while her daughters waited in the car. Belloni’s girlfriend was expecting Vukov and handed her the check. Vukov saw the dog as she returned to her car.

Elvis was on a chain that was attached to a long wire, allowing him to run back and forth in a dirt area alongside the driveway. He was hidden in a deep hole when Vukov pulled up, the reason, she speculated, that she hadn’t seen him at first. She said only his ears protruded from the hole. Vukov supposed the dog had dug the hole to make a shady place. She claimed the dog did not have other shelter from the sun.

When the dog came running toward her, she thought the dog looked skinny.

Vukov said parts of the dog’s ears were eaten away by a thick covering of black flies, and the biting flies were around the dog’s eyes, too. “He had bloody ears and poop stuck on his butt with maggots,” Vukov said later.

The dog threw himself at her and hung on her, Vukov said. “The dog was asking me, pleading with me,” she said. “He was begging me not to leave.” Vukov said her daughters were calling out to her, telling her to rescue the poor dog and not to leave the suffering animal behind.

At this time in her life, Vukov could have used some rescuing herself. Her husband had left her, and she was in the middle of a divorce. Her home of 14 years was being foreclosed on. Soon the fuel pump in her 12-year-old Suburban would fail, and she would find herself living with her girls in a 36-foot motor home, parking at campsites or wherever she could. She already had five dogs; she didn’t need one more.

But at that moment she had it in her power to rescue a creature she thought was even more miserable than herself. On impulse, she unsnapped the dog’s chain from the overhead wire and drove off with him. That was August 27, 2010, the day her felony troubles began.

I Love Dogs

“I love dogs, my whole life.” Vukov said she has owned as many as six dogs at a time. “I basically rescue them,” she said. “I don’t go looking for them.”

Vukov said that the day she rescued Elvis she phoned another dog lover, a friend of hers named Anne, and Anne came to her home with a 40-pound bag of dog food for the new guy. Vukov said Anne was another softhearted person who rescued animals and sometimes arranged for dogs to be shipped to her home to save them. Vukov believed her friend had money to finance her kindhearted adventures.

Vukov gave Elvis a bath. She said the bathwater “ran red” from his bloody wounds. But Vukov did not take him to a veterinarian. “I didn’t have money for a vet.” She did not call the police or 911. She did not call the humane society or the animal shelter. Because she failed to call any agency in connection with what she said was a rescue, three months later a warrant would be issued for her arrest.

Escondido Police

When an Escondido police detective contacted Vukov in October, she began with denials. “She told me she didn’t know anything about a missing dog,” said detective Stephen Thompson. But then Vukov admitted that she did take Elvis. Vukov told Thompson that she rescued the dog because she believed it was being mistreated. The detective remembered Vukov telling him that “it was underfed and that it was out in the sun.”

Thompson was not satisfied with Vukov’s explanations. Vukov said that he told her to come down to the station and make a statement. “I just got kicked out of my house and my car broke down,” she remembered telling the detective. “He told me to take the bus.” The detective left his card with Vukov, but she did not contact him.

The Dog Goes Missing, Again

On August 27, when Belloni called Afghani to say that Elvis was gone, he named Vukov as the suspected dog-napper, and Afghani took down Vukov’s phone number.

Then, Afghani said, he did research, partly on the internet, and found out that Vukov sold jewelry. So he phoned Vukov and posed as a potential buyer and eventually she gave him directions to her home. When he arrived, he was surprised to see many of Vukov’s belongings scattered about her front yard. She was having a yard sale while she moved out of her house. Afghani said he was allowed to snoop around the house a limited amount, but he did not find Elvis. He said that he went “driving by, for a day, evening, night, midnight,” trying to find his dog.

Vukov said that within a few days of taking the dog — maybe three or four days — she discovered that Elvis was missing. One morning her back gate was half-open, and the rescued dog was gone. Vukov said in the 14 years that she lived in the house not one of her dogs had escaped from her backyard. She said it was not possible for a dog to jump the tall fence nor slide open the large, heavy gate. She believed someone took Elvis.

Vukov wondered if her friend Anne might have come in the middle of the night to take Elvis or maybe someone from the trainer’s place.

And Vukov was suspicious of the man who had contacted her and posed as a jewelry buyer. This man had called her many times. Afghani admitted that he phoned Vukov “300 times.” Vukov had captured Afghani’s cell phone number on her cell phone.

“I thought about it and thought about it,” said Vukov. She decided that the jewelry buyer was the dog’s owner. “I thought, ‘Gee, he’s got his dog back!’”

She sent a two-word text message — “How’s Elvis?” — to the number in her phone. Vukov thought the man might confirm that he had Elvis.

Afghani denied that he’d taken his dog back and said that Elvis is still missing. Afghani said he presently owns two Belgian Malinois dogs.

Vukov went on trial in San Diego’s North County Superior Court in June 2011, charged with felony dog theft.

Grand Theft Dog

California Penal Code 487(e) states that it is grand theft, a felony, to take a dog worth more than $950.

“Make no mistake, this was not a rescue,” prosecutor Laurie Hauf told the jury. She called the defendant’s actions “selfish, irresponsible, and careless.”

Prosecutor Laurie Hauf convinced 
the jury it was grand theft dog.

Prosecutor Laurie Hauf convinced the jury it was grand theft dog.

The deputy district attorney informed jurors that it is not okay to go onto someone else’s property and take a dog just because you believe you can do a better job with that dog.

“It really doesn’t matter what her purpose was, really,” said Hauf. “Doesn’t matter why she took it.”

“Why she did it is interesting,” the prosecutor allowed, “but it doesn’t excuse her.”

Hauf told jurors to set aside their emotions and “follow the law.”

Defense attorney William Mathews 
told the jury it was a dog rescue.

Defense attorney William Mathews told the jury it was a dog rescue.

The defense attorney, William Mathews, took the opposite stance. He told the jury that the defendant’s mental state at the time she took the dog was everything. “This is a specific-intent crime,” the public defender stated.

“The only element in dispute is whether she intended to steal that dog when she took the dog,” Mathews said.

Vukov did not intend to sell the dog nor hold it ransom nor keep it for herself, he said. The woman did not profit from taking the dog, and in fact, she only brought more trouble into her already desperate situation. Clearly, this was an act of compassion, said Mathews. “She didn’t steal the dog.”

“At the time of the taking, in her mind, it was a rescue, simple as that.”

The jury deliberated a full day before declaring Vukov guilty of grand theft.

After the verdict, the five women and seven men of the jury spoke with attorneys outside the courtroom. They said it was hard to determine if the dog was in danger. “Her actions did not prove the dog was in danger,” said one juror. They wished there had been photos of the dog’s bloody ears or any photo to support Vukov’s description of the dog when she took it.

The jurors decided it was not “a legal rescue” because Vukov did not contact authorities. They thought Vukov should have called 911 or the police or the humane society. They said that Vukov should have phoned a veterinarian if she really believed the dog’s life was in danger.

“We felt bad for her,” said one juror. “She did sink herself.” Jurors said they had sympathy for Vukov after they heard her testify.

“I hope the judge does show some leniency,” said one juror, and the others murmured agreement.

After the jury was dismissed, judge Runston Maino told the defendant that if the missing dog were returned it might “influence” him at sentencing time. Vukov later expressed wonder at this. She said she did not have Elvis, and she didn’t know where he was.

Maino ordered Vukov to serve 240 days in custody. Vukov surrendered herself at the Vista jail on October 6. ■

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nan shartel Oct. 26, 2011 @ 5:45 p.m.

i know dog breeders all too well...and many don't deserve to have dogs!!

i once worked in a kennel and told the owner she's rot in hell 4 the way she treated her dogs :(


Jill Ballard Oct. 27, 2011 @ 10:56 a.m.

The judges, deputy D.A.s, and police witnesses at the Vista court are notorious for getting dog rescuers thrown in the slammer. Thanks to the Reader for exposing San Diego's dirty judicial secret.

Of course, Vukov would have been wise to clip a coupon from the Reader to get a free dog exam, but she shouldn't be in jail just because she wasn't clever enough to use a coupon from the Reader.


CSR Oct. 27, 2011 @ 9:42 p.m.

It is a shame that this article was written. I know Philippe Belloni. We bought our dog from him and spent months training the dog together with him. The suggestion that he would ever mistreat or neglect any dog in his care is preposterous.


SurfPuppy619 Oct. 28, 2011 @ 4:56 p.m.

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Scdogtrainer Oct. 30, 2015 @ 7:07 a.m.

I can assure you, you don't. I have no doubt the dog was undercared for, typical of the unfortunate animals with the bad luck of staying with him. He has shown up with dogs to compete who are parasite infested, emmaciated, and can't pick their head out of the water bucket. Don't be so naive. The man is brutal.


Joaquin_de_la_Mesa Oct. 28, 2011 @ 10:49 a.m.

Vukov, would have been wise to contact the authorities. The fact that she didn't makes me doubt her judgment completely.


Hd608 Oct. 28, 2011 @ 2:19 p.m.

This is a sad story filled with enough drama for the makings of a TV movie.

A man's dog, Elvis, is gone. A dog that he had gone to great lengths and expense to get. A dog that he searched for relentlessly by involving detectives, posing as a jewelry buyer and calling Vukov over 300 times, and driving day and night to find. Only to come so close to being reunited with Elvis and to find that he had been stolen again from Vukov's gated back yard by possibly another animal lover or the dog trainer.

A compassionate woman who can't bear to leave behind the broken down dog pleading her to rescue him from the dirt hole that he has dug to find refuge from the hot Escondido sun where he licks the bloody wounds inflicted by the sadistic trainer's beatings to make him submissive. A woman, barely able to provide a home for herself and two teenage daughters, who chooses to add an extra burden to her life to kidnap and nurture a starved, feces ridden dog covered with flies and maggots from his hellhole.

A court of law that must decide the reasonableness of a person in taking their custody an abused dog that belonged to someone else to protect it. A jury so taken by emotion they take a day to deliberate the issue.

And last, the dog trainer who aggrandizes himself with elite professional credentials of European accomplishments that no one questions....

A trainer that parlays what would have been a simple $1,500.00 dog training job into an annual revenue of probably $40,000.00 or more by training three dogs (Elvis and the two he sold Afgani for $8,500.00) and upselling his training and coaching services that could take a couple of years and easily be $3,000.00 per month.

The trainer's cost - a wire and hook to contain the dog, a girlfriend that feeds the dog one dish of dry food at night, and a little of his time to continue duping the dog owner that he'll win the title if he keeps buying more dogs and training. America, what a country....

Where's the animal rights people when a dog needs them?


CSR Oct. 28, 2011 @ 2:42 p.m.

The alleged claims of the poor condition of the dog were fabricated to avoid prosecution. The felony conviction tells the facts of the matter. Shame on the Reader for causing undue stress on a true professional trainer, Philippe is the victim of a woman who could obviously not handle rejection.


SurfPuppy619 Oct. 28, 2011 @ 4:58 p.m.

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indsey Nov. 4, 2011 @ 4:30 p.m.

i'm thoroughly confused by this post


Hd608 Oct. 28, 2011 @ 3:21 p.m.

The plot thickens . . .

Beautiful curvaceous blonde Russian woman, recently divorced and almost homeless, about to share a home with the French dog trainer she's fallen in love with only to be rejected by him in the most offensive manner. A man too cowardly to stand up for himself has his new girlfriend meet the tormented woman at the door to shoo her on her way.

Hurt and rejected, fueled by rage, she kidnaps Elvis in revenge. And lands herself in jail. Who's the victim? The dog, the woman, the owner or the trainer?

Is Elvis anywhere in the house?


SurfPuppy619 Oct. 28, 2011 @ 5:01 p.m.

She should not have taken the dog-she is not the judge and jury. But if she took the dog because of medical conditions that is not stealing, but she needed to 1) document the dogs condition-with pictures and a visit to the vet-$35-$40, 2) notify authorities. If she could not afford the vet costs she should nto have taken the dog.

I also do NOT buy the argument the dog escaped or was stolen, IMO someone she knows has the dog, and it is probably doing good. I WOULD like to have seen pictures of the dogs condition when she took him, that is the key to this entire case/drama.

She certainly has strong issues to argue on appeal IMO.


Hd608 Oct. 28, 2011 @ 9:15 p.m.


The dog owner loses his prized dog that he trained to be a champion.

A woman is imprisoned for a selfless act to rescue what she believed an abused dog.

A jury is forced to convict the woman for failing to contact animal protection authorities who could have determined whether abuse existed, rescued Elvis if necessary and any other abused dogs that may have been on site, and possibly put an end to further abuse by the dog trainer if so warranted.

A dog trainer is victimized by a woman who couldn't handle rejection and victimized by public scrutiny of his business in the court and media.

Elvis, the pedigreed Belgian Malinois from the Czech Republic, is nowhere to be found.

Le Fin


Dogman Oct. 29, 2011 @ 9:31 a.m.

I actually know Philippe, and have been getting 2 dogs trained with him for about a year now. I can personally attest to his character, and to the fact that he treats his own animals and the animals in his care with knowledge, affection and respect. It is preposterous that any dog in his care would be in any way mistreated.

I understand that the woman observed the dog for only moments before purloining the creature, and that she was angry about the busted rental agreement. It is easy to make poor choices when angry.

Belgian Malinois are specifically bred to be protection dogs and to be tough and aggressive. When in training, they are not at all like your cuddly house pet that lives in your bed. They are built for work, and respond to training for that work like no other dog. Philippe has been training these dogs for more than 30 years, and knows every detail about the dog, the work, and the associated sports that cultivate the breed.


SurfPuppy619 Oct. 29, 2011 @ 12:24 p.m.

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Dogman Oct. 29, 2011 @ 1:08 p.m.

Why do you doubt my post? I really do have two German Shepherd dogs in protection training with him. Come on by the training field on Sunday between 10:30 and 12:00 AM and I'll introduce you.

Wear sturdy clothing!


SurfPuppy619 Oct. 29, 2011 @ 11:19 p.m.

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Vadimys Oct. 29, 2011 @ 1:10 p.m.

Wow! A felon comes up with an excuse in an attempt to avoid punishment for her crime, and the SD reader community blames the victims. This group should be ashamed of themselves.

Imagine a perpetrator, attempting to tell a jury, "she was asking for it, just begging me to assault her." How is this different?

Here the perp says, "the dog was asking for it, just begging me to steal it" and community responds "well if the dog was asking for it, this must be the victims' fault or the fault of the police".... Simply shameful and ridiculous!

My name is Vadim. I am a dog sport competitor and have been a client of Philippe Belloni for almost 10 years. I also continue to use Philippe's boarding facilities when traveling to this day. When I started training with Philippe, I confirmed the accomplishments he claimed on his website easily as he is well known as one of the top trainers in the US and internationally. To this day, trainers and competitors from around the world visit to learn from Philippe and resolve problems with their dogs other trainers could not resolve.

Over the course of these years I have visited Philippe's facility 2-3 times per week almost every week and have never seen a dog in the condition claimed by this convicted felon.

I know Steve well and remember Elvis from my visits. Elvis spent the nights in a covered, spacious dog kennel with a bed. During the day, Elvis was given a chance to run on a 40 ft line. The line in question still exists today and is directly below numerous ample shade trees that have obviously been there for decades. Anyone who has actually visited the facility can confirm this is the truth, just as the writer of the article confirms. Additionally Philippe and an assistant, trained the dog on a daily basis to further Steve's goals. As a result the dog received significantly more attention than most dogs ever see anywhere. Elvis was never underweight, was not injured in anyway, and certainly did not have any blood on him.

During this time period, although Steve was not able come out daily, he visited regularly and was always happy with the condition of his dog. Ask yourself, would someone who had already invested thousands in a dog and was spending thousands more for training, leave the dog at a place that was neglecting him? Of course not. This of course a lie and was confirmed by a jury. You would think this would be enough to clear a victim's name.

Visit Philippe's website to read about him and his philosophies on training and breeding at http://www.frenchtrainer.com/

If you are still not convinced, then perhaps, the "victim was asking for it" defense is better than I realized.....

BTW-surfpuppy, Philippe is not able to write well in english. If you actually knew him, you would know that.... I know dogman well and train with him and Philippe regularly each week. You obviosuly need some h8r-aide....


SurfPuppy619 Oct. 29, 2011 @ 11:22 p.m.

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SurfPuppy619 Oct. 29, 2011 @ 11:38 p.m.

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Dogman Oct. 30, 2011 @ 8:17 a.m.

Surf puppy has a bone to chew, and can't give it up! You must have been really high when you made those posts, the logic you display is beyond paranoid. How could Vadim know me unless he and I are both Philippe?

Dude, get help. Or do as I suggested before, come on out Sunday and meet us and others if you can find your way out of your mom's basement.


SurfPuppy619 Oct. 31, 2011 @ 11:31 a.m.

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SurfPuppy619 Oct. 31, 2011 @ 11:32 a.m.

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Drumchick Oct. 30, 2011 @ 9:17 a.m.

My name is jen, I have been training with phillipe for about 3 months now. I currently have a german shepherd and a belgian malinois in training. I did lots of research on many many different dog trainers before I chose phillipe. He is by far the best dog trainer I have encounterd. These acusations that he mistreats any dogs is absolutely crazy, its impossible to abuse and train a dog at the same time. Why would a lawyer of all dog owners pay to send there $5800 dog to someone who is going to abuse them, doesnt make any sence. They would done their research like I did and send their dog to the best which is phillipe. Im sure there are tons of dog trainers to choose from in orange county, but no he chooses to drive all the way to sd to train with phillipe...obviously because he is one of the best trainers around. And sockpuppet of course his clients would come defend these crazy accustion from a convicted felon because we all love phillipe and cant believe people are such cowards and liars its pretty ridiculous people would even begin to listen To a convicted felon over a proffesional trainer of 40 years. Further more this mongoloid sock puppet, shouldnt be such a coward and come down to the training field and see for urself how great of a trainer phillipe is before u start talking like you know anything about this trainer. I am training there every sat and sun 1030 to 12. I would love to meet you!


Twister Oct. 30, 2011 @ 10:05 p.m.

I don't know which humans are guilty of what, but I do know that the victim is a dog.

Here are a few of the most suspicious elements:

  1. Personal messages.

  2. The story of the act of rescue does not line up with the nature of lies and liars; hence, score a theoretical point for the person in jail.

  3. The story of the rescue is plausible, if not provable, at least by underfunded public defenders.

  4. Character assassination of people down on their luck is a common behavioral phenomenon.

  5. People down on their luck tend to be victims.

  6. People down on their luck tend to be very sympathetic to their fellow creatures and tend not to think of anything else but caring for the creature in peril.

I know the Malinois temperament. They are very loving dogs, and will defend their friends at great risk to themselves. If this dog would get into a stranger's car, it was desperate.

I, too, have rescued dogs. I would probably have let the dog continue to suffer to protect my precious ass from the Authorities, but I would have hoped that I would have gone to jail, if necessary, to save the dog from killer heat. This woman's story of the rescue is plausible, therefore there was reasonable doubt. She had no way of knowing when the dog would die, and thus there might not have been time to call the Authorities, who might have placed the dog in a hot truck for transport to the execution chamber.

Finally, though I do not have the facts of this particular case, I suspect that the jury might have been intimidated by the judge. There are so many judges out there who are silver-spooned ribbon-clerks who have little or no knowledge of anything but chapter and verse. I make no comment about this judge, because I know nothing of him or her.


Vadimys Oct. 31, 2011 @ 10:30 a.m.

"The story of the act of rescue does not line up with the nature of lies and liars; hence, score a theoretical point for the person in jail. "

I agree, rescues and liars do not line up.

From the article: "When an Escondido police detective contacted Vukov in October, she began with denials. “She told me she didn’t know anything about a missing dog,” said detective Stephen Thompson."

Since the police already confirmed Vukov is a liar, using your own logic, it should be obvious this was theft not rescue......


nan shartel Oct. 31, 2011 @ 12:50 p.m.

let's liberate those sock puppets 2 Pupster ;-D


SurfPuppy619 Oct. 31, 2011 @ 2:45 p.m.

Yes-liberate the sock puppet accountsssssss!


JackoLantern Oct. 31, 2011 @ 4:46 p.m.

Surf puppy,

I agree with you that CSR is a sock puppet that Philippe Belloni commanded one of his friends to post to rebuild his business reputation.

I think the other ones actually are written by Philippe's clients.


JackoLantern Oct. 31, 2011 @ 4:27 p.m.


Trina is your mom? I'm so sorry. This must be hard on you. I understood from the article she only had two daughters.

Don't believe everything you read here. Everybody, including me, are making guesses as to what the truth may be.

You know your mother. She can probably use your support right now.


vuk99 Nov. 2, 2011 @ 5:06 p.m.

Its not that hard on me. I am actually happy that she is in jail because she has done so much to me and my sister and now she is regretting it. its too late for her apologies now.... I was with her when she stole the dog she threw a blanket on its head and threw it on top of me. As she says in this article, we talked her into it, we actually tried went against it and told her not to.


JackoLantern Nov. 2, 2011 @ 5:54 p.m.

That sounds scary. Did you have to testify in court and tell the jury that?

Do you have any idea what might have happened to Elvis?

I hope you and your sister are in good hands and that this incident does not affect you badly.


vuk99 Nov. 3, 2011 @ 11:30 a.m.

we have no idea where the dog is and from what i know it only went missing once... she exaggerated quite a bit, saying how its ears and eyes were getting torn up by flies and there was not poop stuck to its butt "with maggots." all i could see was that the dog looked hot and thirsty. she didn't have to steal the dog she simply could have just given it water.


Twister Oct. 31, 2011 @ 7:07 p.m.

Please refer to the paste-in below. The poster chose to paste in my quote and then openly misquote me. That is called a straw-man fallacy, and is not even appropriate on Halloween.

The fact (if, in fact, it is a fact--that's why we have juries) that the detective quoted or interpreted Vukov correctly as written is hearsay anyway, but let's assume that is the case. That, alone, does not make Vukov guilty; in fact it is prejudicial. The detective needs to be placed under oath and questioned and required to make declarations under penalty of perjury. Perjury is a crime, but lying to a "person of interest" in order to extract a confession or for any other purpose is not. But juries can, unless they have been spooked by a judge, can see through dissembling witnesses, including police officers. Even if convicted on that evidence, the crime is only lying to a police officer, not anything else. And that cannot be used to impeach other non-relevant testimony. Judges should show restraint, as should opinion-generators.

But even assuming that the woman did take a dog, that does not make her a dognapper. The whole case has a certain odor of kangaroo-court about it, and it could be that the woman did not get a fair trial. If not, whomsoever the presiding judge was should answer for his or her lack of legal discipline (and invoking of statues in the absence of judgment), and the jury should regret that they did not school themselves on being jurors before any case was heard. The jury can, and often should, nullify the instructions of the court. That's the first thing they should know about their responsibilities, but they will not be so instructed in any court in the land; further, if they show any knowledge of jury nullification, they will not be seated. This is one of the primary defects in the system of injustice in the USA.

Now, therefore, this discussion and blog has shown a taint of vigilantism and a lack of intellectual discipline. Further, methinks that many "doth protest to much."

It's all too transparent. The issue is whether or not Vukov was actually guilty or merely railroaded in order to move on the the next case. That possibility cannot be dismissed lightly. And, was the quality of mercy more than a bit strained. Do we have a criminal here, or is there reasonable doubt?


See next post for the paste-in. Including it added up to 3008 words.


Twister Oct. 31, 2011 @ 7:08 p.m.

Here is the paste-in shorn from the previous post, which was 8 words too long in its original form:

In re: By Vadimys 10:30 a.m., Oct 31, 2011 (which see; there is not room for the full paste

"The story of the act of rescue does not line up with the nature of lies and liars; hence, score a theoretical point for the person in jail. " [Twister]

I agree, rescues and liars do not line up. [Twister clearly did not say that, and hereby disagrees with this misrepresentation.

From the article: "When an Escondido police detective contacted Vukov in October, she began with denials. “She told me she didn’t know anything about a missing dog,” said detective Stephen Thompson."

Since the police already confirmed Vukov is a liar, using your own logic, it should be obvious this was theft not rescue......


Twister Nov. 1, 2011 @ 3:05 p.m.

I have now more carefully reviewed this article. The case appears to be full of flaws. The woman did not get a fair trial. She should be released and her record cleared. Apparently, the case was so poorly and inadequately investigated that it should never have gone to trial in the first place. Vukov was "processed," not tried fairly. The jury was intimidated. They knew in their guts and hearts that their decision was in error, but they chose to "follow the law," which, as presented, was a flawed joke.

I hope that a competent attorney will file an appeal, and get her released pending a new trial.


SurfPuppy619 Nov. 1, 2011 @ 5:12 p.m.

She is entitled to a public defender on her appeal to the 4th Ditrict Court of Appeal. The are veyr competent lawyers for the most part.

I think she has strong issues on appeal.


JackoLantern Nov. 1, 2011 @ 5:39 p.m.

Was anybody here at the trial or know the facts of the case?

If she took the dog without notifying authorities to make a complaint it would appear to be pretty back and white theft.

What are the grey issues or mitigating factors that would lessen the charge or give her an excuse from a theft charge? Public sympathy is all that I can see from this article.

What prompted the jury to deliberate almost a day to determine her guilt or innocence?

Based on what I've read in this article, if I was the judge, I'd rule theft with her to make restitution to Belloni or his insurance company. Belloni should have reimbursed the owner for the value of the dog since it was in his care. But, I don't know any of the facts of the case firsthand, so I can't make that judgement.

What issues do you think she'd have on appeal?


JackoLantern Nov. 1, 2011 @ 6:27 p.m.

I would say it was grossly negligent of her to not notify or immediately take the dog to animal control or police.

I wonder if she knew how much the dog was worth? And if she knew that it belonged to the dog trainer's client?

If she knew the dog belonged to someone else, why wouldn't she try to find the owner to let him know the condition of his dog?

Why didn't she report the dog missing when he ran away?

Did she have any prior incidents on her police record that would indicate she might be a thief?


SurfPuppy619 Nov. 2, 2011 @ 10:17 a.m.

"Did she have any prior incidents on her police record that would indicate she might be a thief?"

What do you mean by "prior incidents"????

Unelss she was actually CONVICTED of a crime nothing prior matters. Allegations and trials that result in acquittal mean zero in court, they don't even come in as evidence.


JackoLantern Nov. 2, 2011 @ 5:26 p.m.

Yes, whether she had been convicted of anything else before or if an investigation had indicated she may have had a propensity to commit an act like this one.

Witnesses could bring evidence that may shine a light on character.


SurfPuppy619 Nov. 2, 2011 @ 11:02 p.m.

Witnesses could bring evidence that may shine a light on character.

== Allegations of misconduct are not evidence, just allegations. Nothing more. Allegations-unproven- never come into evidence. As I said, unless you are CONVICTED no evidence like that is coming in.

Even if she did have priors, if they are over 10 years old they STILL won't come into evidence, they are "stale".


Twister Nov. 2, 2011 @ 9:15 a.m.

These are all good questions that should have been asked by the investigators (especially of themselves) and addressed thoroughly in court.

In re to: By JackoLantern 6:27 p.m., Nov 1, 2011


JackoLantern Nov. 2, 2011 @ 5:47 p.m.

The article is written for the reader to empathize for Vukov for rescuing a dog. However, it lacks many of the facts of the case which must have been brought up during the trial. I'm assuming the author of the article was present at the hearing.

I'm wondering why the jury took a full day to come to a decision as to whether it was theft or rescue? Or why the jury sympathized with her?

Was the author being biased and leaving out relevant information in this article to get a dramatic cover story that would attract sympathizing dog-loving readers?

There are a lot of unanswered questions and strange behavior to be explained. I think this article could send out the wrong message that self-rescuing dogs is OK. In any event, the authorities should be called in. One's perception of an abused dog could be quite different from a standard view.

I could understand taking the dog if the dog was in imminent danger. I don't see that here. She could have notified authorities who could have been on the scene within an hour to address the problem.

If Belloni listed her as the prime suspect, I'm assuming he notified her ASAP that it was a client's dog. Why wouldn't she have tried to give the dog back?

If she is such a dog lover, why wouldn't she have put out an APB on Elvis when he went missing? I would have been worried sick knowing he was out there someplace maybe prey to nature, traffic or other dangers.

My heart goes out to the dog owner for losing his dog, not in sympathy of her because she put the dog at great risk and lost him. I'd be devastated beyond words.


JackoLantern Nov. 2, 2011 @ 6:04 p.m.

If the message of this article is that the judicial system was too hard in this case, but that it could be OK to take a dog that you believe you can keep and care for better in your home, then that's not right.

People love their pets. Not everybody can be the judge of what is abuse. Let animal protection make that call.

The authorities could punish the abuser too so justice really would be done.


maxiepriest Nov. 3, 2011 @ 7:51 a.m.

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.


DudekLawFirm Nov. 4, 2011 @ 9:45 a.m.

What a terrible situation. When dogs attack others, the owners are often responsible. In this case, a woman is paying the consequences for attempting to save a poorly treated animal. Although her intentions may have been good, she is paying the consequences for acting on instinct and letting authorities investigate the situation. http://bit.ly/sLW8pV


Eva Knott Nov. 4, 2011 @ 5:59 p.m.

The first time I went to see Trina, she began to cry because someone came to visit her in jail. Since then, at least three other people have visited Trina while in custody. She has lost weight. She said she is using a stationary bicycle they have there, and she does push ups and sit ups and leg lifts in her cell. I have sent her emails joking about the Vista Jail Spa Weight Loss Program. Today she said, “If I could do it all over again, you know what I would do? I would call the Humane Society.” I gave Trina the chance to react to some of the comments which people have posted online, following her story in the READER. She is thankful for supportive comments. She said will not appeal her conviction, on her attorney’s advice; she fears annoying the judge and perhaps getting an even longer jail sentence. Regarding comments that claim Trina must have been angry because Belloni withdrew his offer for her to stay at his place: “I was absolutely not angry at all.” She said, “I was pleased to get my deposit check and be on my way.” I read aloud some of the comments by a person who identified herself as vuk99 – and Trina confirmed that she did put a blanket over the head of Elvis-the-dog “to keep him calm” when she put him into her car. Then Trina Vukov looked sad and her eyes got red, and she said that she was going to phone her ex-husband, and that both her daughters live with their father now. Eva Knott.


SurfPuppy619 Nov. 4, 2011 @ 11:28 p.m.

She said will not appeal her conviction, on her attorney’s advice; she fears annoying the judge and perhaps getting an even longer jail sentence

OMG, are you for REAL??????

She is entitled to a public defender on appeal, she has strong issues on appeal, and I cannot believe her attorney would say the judge will hold it against her if she appeals, that would be a breach of the judicial ethics so egregious thatbit would get the judge sacked in a heartbeat, he would lose not only his judgeship but also his law license.

If her lawyer said that she needs a new lawyer pronto! I do not believe her lawyer said that. Sorry.


Twister Nov. 4, 2011 @ 7:29 p.m.

A case of gross insensitivity to other humans and other animals by Top Dawgs in this here one-percent-dominated culture.

"The opposite of love is not hate; the opposite of love is indifference." --Oscar Wilde


Twister Nov. 5, 2011 @ 7:55 a.m.

Sorry, that's the way our injustice system works. I do not doubt that they may be wise, though--though it makes me want to throw up.

In reply to: By SurfPuppy619 11:28 p.m., Nov 4, 2011


SurfPuppy619 Nov. 5, 2011 @ 11:09 a.m.

It is an awful move. This ain't no misdemenaor, this is a FELONY.

A FELONY beef on yoru rap sheet is so serious I cannot even begin to go into it, over an issue like this?? She is a fool if she does not appeal.


Twister Nov. 5, 2011 @ 3:37 p.m.

She may well be a fool; who knows? But that doesn't (or shouldn't) rate a felony. Another example of the injustice system.


SurfPuppy619 Nov. 5, 2011 @ 5:16 p.m.

What shes did is a felony b/c of the dogs worth. I agree that a felony beef on an issue like this is overkill. I KNOW they must have offered her a plea deal to misdemeanor, bt she went to trial.

But whatever the history of the case, a felony conviction is so serious I cannot even begin to understate the seriousness of the matter.

Her chances of obtaining ANY kind of professional license are very slim (even a real etstae license). Even misdemeanor convictions can cause huge problems with professional licenses, her ability to vote, her ability to live in rental housing(almost all large apartment owners/landlords today do not allow convicted felons to rent from them), her ability get gainful employment in government and the private sector- all comprimised with a felony under her name. This is one reason ex prisoners have such a hard time not going back to the pen, they are unable to find gainful employment with their records. Anyway-I hope she does appeal, she will lose nothing by appealing, and unless the judge is going to lower the conviction to a misdemenaor she is history.


Twister Nov. 5, 2011 @ 5:50 p.m.

I know you're right, but I still wouldn't put it past the injustice system to stick it to her even worse on appeal. The elite get perverse pleasure out of making miserable people ever more miserable. The question that should, at the very least, be at the center of such cases is whether society will be made better off by tossing such people in the can, thus costing the taxpayers a bundle or give up on feeding their egos and winning cases. This woman seems like a gentle soul, if a bit mentally "challenged," but a lot of people who get the shaft themselves try to get even; then it's my throat and yours that get cut, not the string of vengeful persecutors. Of course she will be further handicapped; the elite don't give a damn.

I have been a fly on the wall at several "functions" where the "cream" of the "legal" fraternity strut their stuff. I'll never forget attending the funeral of a family member of one of that elite who were and are friends of mine. These a-holes stood around with their wine and hor d'oeuvers at the reception bragging to each other about how they had stuck it to their adversaries in court. The poor rich don't even know how to show respect for the dead.

Don't forget a most important point: The jury REGRETTED "having" to convict.


Twister Nov. 5, 2011 @ 5:56 p.m.

. . . and oh, yeah, concerning the dog's worth, they're overpriced, but even if that isn't considered, the monetary division between a misdemeanor and a felony is arbitrary, not based on any measure of the nature of the crime nor the relevant contexts. Under a justice system, that itself would raise constitutional questions, but not in this perverse system of protecting the powerful and rich at the expense of the rest of us.


JackoLantern Nov. 5, 2011 @ 9:42 p.m.

Do any of you posters have dogs, or for that case, pets? Most pet owners I know treat and love their pets as family members. I do.

I love my dogs so much that if somebody kidnapped one, it would be the same as if they took my child. if I discovered who stole my dog, or acted so irresponsibly to let it get loose or stolen again, I would be PISSED!

I'd see her in civil court too and sue her for money damages, including undue stress and loss of companionship.

I wouldn't feel justice is done if only a slap in the wrist and a misdemeanor was the exchange for my loss and heartache. I don't understand why you think Vukov is a victim here? How would you feel if it was a child she took home to care for but never called the authorities!

What is that you possibly think she has to appeal? I agree that the article raises sympathy for her. For that reason, I think there is a lot we don't know about the facts of the case to be making judgement here.

If you love your dog, you will search the world over to get them back. Look at Afghani, the owner and how desperate he was. He posed as a jewelry buyer and made over 300 CALLS to Vukov and drove around day and night looking for Elvis.

He's the victim here and I think it shows disrespect to him that you have sympathy for somebody who could be so cruel not to even try and find the owner and be so irresponsible to lose the dog. I don't care if it was a $6,000.00 dog or a pound dog, the loss and companionship is devastating.


SurfPuppy619 Nov. 6, 2011 @ 9:17 p.m.

Do any of you posters have dogs,

Are you for real??? Come on, look at my name, look at my profile pic!


JackoLantern Nov. 7, 2011 @ 10:09 a.m.

Hi Surfpuppy, Yes, I was assuming you had a dog by your name. Also, because you are more vocal that she did something wrong. What I don't understand is why so many have sympathy for her and believe that she should appeal or was treated unfairly.

Initially, I felt that way when I read the story. Especially when I saw Philippe Belloni's name associated in this story. His name was a blast from the past. He was a bad news troublemaker in Riverside County strutting around like he was a bad ass mafiosa. Can't brelieve he hasn't worn away his welcome from these parts or been deported. Sounds like you know him too from some of the posts you made.

Creepy as he can be, I can't see him abusing a client's dog to the extent Vukov claimed. And a lot of her actions aren't consistent of somebody concerned with the dog's welfare.

1 Like why she wouldn't call the authorities right away to deal with Belloni if he is a dog abuser? 2. Or try to find the owner? 3. Or fail to put out a search when the dog went missing? 4. Or keep it with her when she can't afford it?

Her actions were irresponsible and the results devastating. IMO a misdemeanor is an insult to the dog owner and would send a bad message to self rescuers.

Some people think it's abusive to see a dog in a crate. What if they start dognapping those dogs because of their perception of abuse?

That's why I ask what issues of appeal the other posters feel she should have? I keep an one mind so am curious to others opinions.

As for inquiry on if they are dog owners, why they would sympathize with her?


Twister Nov. 7, 2011 @ 12:10 p.m.

Read posts carefully. All questions that have been asked and answered need not be belabored unless the answers have been cited.

Either the dog was abused or it wasn't. The "reasonable man/woman test is applicable here," as is the concept of reasonable doubt and the preponderance of the evidence. But the intellectual exercise need not stop there. AGAIN, the jury was apparently badgered into giving up its primary function in this regard. If they erred, that is fodder for a new trial, but it will take a real lawyer to tease out the details. That the police investigation did not investigate this adequately is a serious defect; as is all too common in police investigations, it appears that they did not subject their initial assumptions to any sort of test of validity at all, and apparently ignored the testimony of Vukov and others which made this a rescue case instead of a theft case. A FLAWED rescue? Certainly. But if I found such a dog in such a condition, I might well take it, BECAUSE THE DOG'S WELFARE COMES FIRST, CAPISCE? SP?


Eva Knott Nov. 7, 2011 @ 2:05 p.m.

The public defender who represents Trina told me that he has scheduled a court hearing before the same judge who heard the trial, to ask for “leniency.” Attorney William Mathews said he hopes to shorten Trina’s jail sentence this coming Wednesday, November 9. Trina and her attorney will be heard by Judge Runston Maino at 9 a.m., in department 26, fourth floor of the Vista courthouse. The public is allowed to attend, but please be advised that this is a very serious judge who hears very serious matters, and he will keep a proper decorum in his court. Eva Knott


SurfPuppy619 Nov. 7, 2011 @ 8:19 p.m.

The public is allowed to attend, but please be advised that this is a very serious judge who hears very serious matters, and he will keep a proper decorum in his court.

Eva, ALL the judges are serious, on any matter. I saw a judge last Friday almost toss a smart a** (as in very mouthy) lawyer in the can for being cocky.


JackoLantern Nov. 8, 2011 @ 6:19 p.m.


Your article sure is thought provoking. I really like that you are following up with it and have a relationship with the defendant.

There are so many unanswered questions that raise a lot of doubt on all the parties. Were you at the trial? If so, maybe you could answer some of them, like why the jury took so long and didn't want to convict her.

I am confused at the owner's actions too. The article sounds like Vukov had Elvis for at least 4 days before it escaped. And it's vague about whether law enforcement was engaged to retrieve the dog. Did they get involved after Afghani discovered his dog had escaped to question Vukov about the missing dog? How long was that?

  1. Why didn't the dog owner, or Belloni the trainer, call the cops as soon as they discovered the dog missing? This makes no sense to me. And really negligent on both his part and his trainer too, to not be chasing down a $6,000.00 dog.

  2. Why did the owner take it upon himself to be a undercover detective, snoop around inside her house and put it under surveillance by driving around it morning, night and day? A sheriff could have been on the case immediately with a warrant to inspect her house or car for the dog?

  3. What if she would have let the dog free instead of taking it? I think the trainer must have known right away that she took it or he would have been worried that the dog could get hit in traffic, lost for coyotes . . . If he called the cops, they could have been on the outlook for Elvis right away?

It's suspicious to me that neither party called the authorities. The owner is an attorney. You'd think he would know that. And why did he take his sweet time about getting his dog back? Normally, there would be an immediate sense of urgency to find a missing dog before anything happened to it. I don't see that here.

Maybe there was a conspiracy to get rid of Elvis, make up some fraudulent papers and resell him. That they didn't call the cops indicates that they must have something to hide too.

And why would a mother throw a Belgian Malinois in the back seat with her kids? Especially an abused one! If she knows anything about dogs, she wouldn't endangering her kids with a dog that could be vicious, especially if its hungry, thirsty and beaten.

I tried to rehabilitate a dog once that had been abused and it took a couple years before he had enough confidence not to lash out and try to bite.

I'm starting to think this rescue was premeditated. This story has really had me thinking. Something smells wrong in Denmark. Is that why the jury took so long to deliberate?

Eva, I hope you write a follow up story or share your insight in these comments. I am curious as to what happened here and if justice has been administered fairly. Sounds like you have a story within a story.


Twister Nov. 8, 2011 @ 7:59 a.m.

I guess the female jails aren't crowded enough, with women who have abused their abusers, got caught with a pot-pipe, and other dangers to society like ill-advised dog rescuers who maybe need a less-stressful "vacation" rather than an expensive jail cell. Does someone get paid by the prisoner? Is that why jails are overcrowded? How do US jails and prisons compare to those of other countries in terms of type of crime and length of sentences?

I hope someone will attend and take careful notes. SP, can you provide us with links to transcripts?

PS: If some of the posts are to be believed, the photo I saw of Elvis with his owner was a bit concerning. It appeared that a choke-chain was involved and that the owner was under that common delusion that one controls a dog with a leash.


JackoLantern Nov. 8, 2011 @ 1:19 p.m.


I can assure you that Elvis, as a protection dog, was or would have been trained to be off leash.

Choke collars are controversial, but sometimes dog trainers feel they need to use them to reign in an especially hard dog. The collar alone would not idicate abuse.


Twister Nov. 8, 2011 @ 3:34 p.m.

There are dog trainers and doggy, dodgy, "trainers." I would keep THEM on a short leash, had I the power.

My remark was made as an INDICATION of the possible or probable ATTITUDE on the part of the owner, and maybe/probably the trainer, that "compliance" can be imposed on a dog by "control."

The illusion of obedience be attained, but dogs trained to voluntarily do what the trainer wants have a qualitative edge on those trained by "control," and that deficiency can show up at critical times.

There is no evidence (there was none presented nor required) of this dog's behavior, one way or the other. However, the option remains to investigate the behavior of the owner and trainer.

With any luck, the dog has found a home somewhere. Screw the money.


JackoLantern Nov. 8, 2011 @ 9:56 p.m.

I agree.

I hope Elvis is alive and well.


Twister Nov. 8, 2011 @ 6:51 p.m.

Many an abused dog is so cowed as to be quite malleable.

I have rescued a few in my time, and yes, they do take at least two weeks to "discover" their new "owners." Biting is unusual except with dogs that have been physically and psychologically abused rather than merely neglected. This would be a positive in both Vukov's and the owner's courts.

Malinois are are not, by nature, vicious; they are very devoted, very much "people" dogs. They are, however, excellent protection, and will go after anything you want them to--mine was and excellent rat-killer. He was very strict with trespassers, very gentle with neighborhood children. They have good judgement, and are better at sizing up humans than I am. If your dog doesn't like someone, keep an eye out . . .


JackoLantern Nov. 8, 2011 @ 10 p.m.

In your judgement, would you have thrown this dog in the car with your kids?


Eva Knott Nov. 9, 2011 @ 10:57 a.m.

Trina was in court this morning, trying to get her 240 day jail sentence reduced. Prosecutor Paul Myers warned the court against “sheer manipulation” and argued against any reduction. Defense attorney William Mathews said that freeing Trina would allow her to go back to work and begin paying restitution to the dog owner. Mathews also said, “She has absolutely learned her lesson,” and that Trina would be willing to do volunteer work in lieu of jail. Judge Runston Maino wondered aloud, again, about where Elvis-the-dog is now, and hinted that if the dog could be found it might be influential. Judge Maino looked at Trina when he said, “I am going to deny your request.” Trina Vukov was taken back to Vista jail at the close of the hearing this morning, November 9, at 9:30 a.m. Reported by Eva Knott


JackoLantern Nov. 9, 2011 @ 4:19 p.m.

Eight months in jail! That's serious. Reads like the judge thinks Trina knows where the dog is?


SurfPuppy619 Dec. 17, 2011 @ 4:57 p.m.

240 days is about 2/3 that with good behavior.


slovesa Nov. 13, 2011 @ 7:49 p.m.

This is sad. i know vukov personally. i was her neighbor and good friends with her daughters. i saw the dog when this was happening and i remember the daughters telling me how vukov rescued the dog. it was in her intent to resuce it and she though it was being mistreated. i would have testified for her if i knew what and when it was going on. it is truly sad that she has to go to jail for good intentions.


Twister Nov. 14, 2011 @ 1:01 p.m.

Did the dog have a chip? If so, it could be found by scanning those which fit the description, then verified by nose-print.

Upon which preponderance of evidence did the decision rest that the dog did not escape, but is being hidden by Vukov and others or just others? By what process was it determined that the dog did not escape Vukov's custody? Precisely how were "reasonable man/woman" tests conducted.

Precisely what attempts were made to establish Vukov's innocence as opposed to her guilt.

By what standard other than reasonable doubt has this case been decided? Reasonable guilt? If so, that's not enough.


Eva Knott Jan. 13, 2012 @ 7:59 a.m.

I got an e-mail from the Sheriff's automated system informing me that TRINA VUKOV was released from custody as of 1/12/2012. Formerly she was scheduled to be in jail until March. Posted by Eva Knott.


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