Kristi Durham has a big heart for special needs animals. That's why three years ago, she rescued "Lefty," a beagle with sight and hearing problems, and that turned in circles from a past head injury.
"Anybody, even if they weren't an animal person, loved him, just because he was unique," said Durham.
So when Lefty broke through the fence in their yard Thursday afternoon, her husband panicked. The couple called three different shelters and posted on a local lost pets Facebook page, but they didn't get any leads.
"I've rescued several strays over the years, and I just prayed I'd be fortunate enough to get back some of that goodwill and get my baby back," Durham said.
But when her husband went to the shelters Friday to see if Lefty, had turned up, he got some devastating news.
Polk County animal services had already euthanized the dog.
"It's heartbreaking and nothing's ever going to bring my baby back," said Durham.
Polk County animal control, which is under the sheriff's office, says Lefty wasn't at the shelter yet when Durham called Thursday. The shelter scanned his microchip, but the phone number given to them by the chip company wasn't valid. They later discovered a couple of the digits had been mixed up. The couple's address hadn't been updated since they moved to Auburndale in August.
Without finding the owners, and because of his health problems, the shelter vet decided Lefty needed to be put down.
"It was just the perfect storm, and it's very sad. We feel terrible for this pet owner. She's welcome to come to animal control and we'll give her a pet for free. We certainly don't want this to ever happen again," said
Carrie Horstman, public information officer with the Polk Co. Sheriff's Office.
If an animal's healthy when it gets to the shelter, it's entered into a database and kept at least four days before going up for adoption. Shelters in Pasco, Pinellas, and Hillsborough Counties have similar policies, and they all say it's extremely common for microchips to have wrong information about the pet's owner.
A lot of counties use online systems like HomeAgain.com to see if your pet is micro-chipped, and you can go online no matter when your pet was chipped, and enter or update your information. So if your pet gets lost, that's the information that comes up.
You can also go to your local shelter and register your pet with the county and get it licensed, records that can be pulled up if your pet ends up in the shelter.
The county also recommends if your pet is lost, you physically go to the shelter and walk the kennels as soon as possible to see if your dog is there.
In December, Polk Co. animal control will be offering discounted micro-chipping services. If your pet is already chipped, you can register that information at the shelter anytime for free.