AVON — An Avon family has started a petition to get their dog back after they claim Love-A-Stray adopted it out to another family.
Terri Sandu said her family was heartbroken to discover that the dog, Harley, is with another family.
“It just makes it even more painful because it feels like we’ve lost her twice,” she said.
Sandu said Harley escaped from a fenced-in enclosure in their backyard Dec. 19. Harley, who she said was wearing a collar and dog tag, was not found after weeks of searching.
Sandu said she contacted the Lorain County pound Dec. 21 and again Dec. 27, not realizing that the city of Avon Lake had its own kennel. Avon Lake police found a dog matching Harley’s description on Christmas Day, and the dog remained in that city’s kennel until Dec. 30, when it was turned over to Love-A-Stray.
Avon Lake police Sgt. Fran Tibbits said the dog had no collar or tags when found. Typically, police house lost dogs in the kennel for three days, and if the animal isn’t claimed, it is turned over to an agency such as Love-A-Stray.
“We kept the dog for an extra three days after the required time, because it was Christmas time,” he said. “In most cases, the owner calls and retrieves their dog.”
Sandu said she never called police because she believed officers would take the dog to the Lorain County pound if it was found. She said she was starting to lose hope when she noticed a listing for a dog that looked like Harley on Love-A-Stray’s website.
Sandu said she called Love-A-Stray on Jan. 12 and spoke with a worker, who she said refused to let her look at the dog. She said the group’s Facebook page had indicated on Jan. 11 that the dog hadn’t been adopted.
“She basically questioned why we hadn’t been looking for her and that a family had been looking at her,” she said.
She said the worker then told her that she would talk to the other volunteers about the dog, but she never received a call back from Love-A-Stray after repeated calls and emails. Through a post on Love-A-Stray’s website Feb. 3, the family learned that the dog had been adopted, Terri Sandu said.
DanaMarie Pannella, an attorney for Love-A-Stray, said the dog was adopted Jan. 8 — before Terri Sandu’s phone call to Love-A-Stray. She said workers at Love-A-Stray told Sandu this, after extensively working to find the dog’s owner.
A post on Love-A-Stray’s Facebook page indicates that a photo of a Rottweiler rescued on Christmas was shared on the website 247 times Dec. 25. The post asked for information on the dog’s owner.
The same picture was posted again Jan. 10, however, indicating that the dog had not been adopted and that it was going through training.
“Holly, one of the dogs that was on vacation at Paws by the Lake during the cold snap, leaves today and is going to Komplete K9 Training so Agnes can evaluate her with dogs and cats. Holly will also learn some manners. Holly the Rott was abandoned in Avon Lake on Christmas Day!” read the post.
Pannella denied that Love-A-Stray didn’t do enough to find the animal’s owner. She said Love-A-Stray officials read Craigslist and Facebook postings, looked for lost dog fliers and newspaper advertisements in the area, as well as reaching out to local animal welfare organizations via a mass email.
Love-A-Stray’s policy also is to reach out to animal clinics, grooming salons, pet stores and neighboring police departments and animal control officers, she said.
“When Ms. Sandu finally contacted Love-A-Stray after her friend had seen a Rottweiler’s picture on Facebook, it was too late. Love-A-Stray no longer had any legal right to the dog. As a courtesy, Love-A-Stray did discuss the situation with the dog’s new owner, but they were not willing to surrender the dog,” Pannella said in a written statement.
“The dog was legally owned by another family and they were unwilling to part with their new rescue pet. Love-A-Stray has strict screening standards for adopters and feels confident that the dog was placed in a loving, safe home.”
Sandu said she believes that there needs to be better communication between the city and the county pound. A letter from the Sandus’ attorney to Avon Lake Law Director Abraham Lieberman said the Lorain County Dog Kennel’s website indicates that the facility houses stray and unwanted dogs from the county.
“Nowhere on the site does it instruct dog owners of a responsibility or encouragement to also call their local police,” read the letter from attorney Bryan Mollohan.
Lieberman, who said he has heard conflicting stories from the Sandus and Love-A-Stray on the issue, said the city followed proper procedures.
“Basically, the city doesn’t send the animals that they find to the county dog pound, so they had no reason to contact the pound,” he said. “The procedures were properly followed; unfortunately, the Sandus didn’t contact the city.”
Mollohan also criticized Love-A-Stray for not allowing the Sandus to see the dog to determine if it was Harley.
“While it is clear that the Love-A-Stray organization performs a valuable and important service in the community, it is also clear that their refusal to allow the family to see the dog upon receiving notice that the dog may in fact have a loving family seems to be clearly contrary to their purpose and intentions for the City of Avon Lake in partnering with them to help lost and abandoned dogs,” he wrote to Lieberman.
After being told that the dog’s ownership was legally transferred to Love-A-Stray by the police department, Sandu is hoping to reach the new owner of Harley and convince him or her to return the dog.
“We really think the way to appeal to people right now is through their hearts,” she said. “My kids and I are devastated.”