NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. — Action News Jax investigates is getting answers for a local family who says a pet shelter adopted out their dog after it was turned in by a dog sitter.
“How has this been for you?” Action News Jax Ben Becker asked Bailey Hoover. “Very hard because he’s my emotional support animal,” said the 17-year-old who owned a 2-year-old Pug Mix named Puppy.
“He got her through a lot of stuff,” said Hoover’s mother Carrie.
Bailey said she left Puppy with friends to dog sit while she was out of town, but she had money issues and couldn’t get back for a month – that’s when Puppy was taken to Nassau County Animal Services, where it was adopted out.
In an Action News Jax investigation, Becker discovered questions about a Nassau County ordinance that defines an owner as “any person, partnership, or corporation owning, keeping or harboring one (1) or more animals. An animal shall be deemed to be harbored if it is fed or sheltered for three (3) consecutive days or more.”
According to that law, the dog was considered abandoned and no longer belonged to Bailey.
“I was just numb, I couldn’t stop crying,” said Bailey. “I was crying for hours it was non-stop, broke my heart.” “This dog was chipped correct?,” asked Becker. “Yes,” said Bailey.
The Hoovers sent Becker a document that shows Puppy was microchipped, but the shelter was not required to check it because Florida Statute only requires screenings for “implanted microchips” in lost or stray dogs.
So, what about the Nassau County three day ordinance, which considers a dog abandoned?
“If I take my dog to a boarding kennel and board it for a week is it not my dog anymore?” wonders Animal Attorney Marcy Lahart, who said it would be good practice to require scanning and questions the Nassau County ordinance
“A county cannot divest someone of their property interest in three days by county ordinance,” Lahart said. “I don’t think that would withstand constitutional muster.”
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Becker e-mailed Nassau County about Puppy and received a statement:
“When the caretaker arrived at Nassau County Animal Services on October 24th, the Animal Control Officer reviewed correspondence which showed that the dog had been in her care for about a month. The new “owner” completed the animal surrender form, releasing the dog to Nassau County Animal Services. The dog was then subsequently adopted out.”
But Becker found discrepancies with Nassau County’s story by reviewing documents that he obtained that show Puppy was brought in Oct. 17 and adopted out on Oct. 20 -- but the release form for Puppy isn’t signed until Oct. 24.
“We see it more and more, whether it be a kitten or a dog, abandoned. People open up the doors, and kick them on the side of the road, and leave,” said Nassau County Animal Services director Tim Maguire from an Action News Jax interview in 2018 where he was talking about abandoned animals.
Becker went to the shelter to get some answers about what abandoned really means -- it’s after a spokesperson said Maguire would not sit down for an interview about the dog being microchipped but not scanned.
“Tim won’t talk?” Becker asked a receptionist. “He’s unavailable,” she said.
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The Hoovers say they still feel the pain of losing Puppy
“What if you don’t get him back?” asked Becker. “Then I have no idea how I’m going to feel,” said Bailey. “It’s just heartbreaking because we think we are protecting our pets and the shelter doing this is really wrong.”
Action News Jax wants to emphasize the person who adopted Puppy did not violate any laws and is under no obligation to return the pet.