For at least one local family, heres a new twist on an old saying: If you love something, set it free. If it doesnt come back you probably took it to the Wake County Animal Center.
That was the experience of Danielle Miller and her young family when it came to their dog, Tucker.
Miller said she took Tucker to the shelter Nov. 14 to free it from their small apartment and so Tucker he could be re-homed. Thats animal shelter talk for adopted. But Miller changed her mind within an hour and went back to retrieve Tucker.
It was too late.
Tucker, a black German shepherd-Labrador mix, had already been put down, euthanized oh, who are we kidding? KILLED despite assurances that that was unlikely to occur.
Two weeks later, Miller is still distraught.
When I took him in, they said Ooh, hes so beautiful and theyd try to re-home him, she told me Wednesday. I asked if there was any chance hed be euthanized, and they said Yes, but dont worry. Its not going to happen. I asked if it was OK to call back and check on him.
Even as she drove away, Miller was tormented by her decision, she said. But so great was her love for the 2-year, 4-month-old dog that she knew Tucker would be better off with some place to stretch out and run.
Oh, Tucker had plenty of room to run, ears pinned back by the wind, tongue wagging, when Millers husband, Andy Sargent, was in the U.S. Marine Corps and stationed at Camp Lejeune. When he got out of the Corps, the family relocated to the Triangle. It was much more affordable living in Havelock, she said, and we had a huge backyard where he could run and run. But the familys Apex apartment didnt provide that luxury.
We thought it would work here, but it didnt, she said.
It became obvious that the smaller surroundings werent good for him. We read about the centers adoption policy and thought it would be best to let Tucker go someplace where he could roam.
Miller said she called back 15 minutes after driving away from the center and was told that everything was cool with Tucker. She got the same answer when she called back 30 minutes later, she said. Fifteen minutes after that, though, when shed decided to bring Tucker home and find some new living arrangements, she got the news that devastated the family.
I told them I was coming back to get him, and they said, Dont bother. Hes already dead. I said there must be some mistake. The person on the other end, she said, assured her there was no mistake. Im looking at him. Hes dead, Miller said she was told.
Dr. Jennifer Federico, animal services director for the center, said the 45 minutes her staff gave for the aggressive Tucker to chill out was actually longer than usual. Were an extremely busy center. In the context of what we do every day, thats about twice as long as usual.
Were not here to euthanize pets, she said. Im a vet. I would much rather return pets to their family.
The decision to euthanize Tucker was made, Federico said, after staff members tried to put a leash on the dog so it could be de-wormed and vaccinated. We always tell people theres a chance of euthanasia, Federico said, citing space, health and temperament as possible reasons.
She said Tucker became aggressive with staff each time they tried to process him. Hence, the decision to euthanize was made.
We want to give the animal every chance to be processed, but if they show any sign of aggression, were not allowed to adopt them out, Federico said.
Miller was inconsolable. I cried so hard, she recalled. I went there the next day and asked How is this possible? How could you kill a loving pet within an hour?
Tucker was so beautiful and peaceful, Miller said. He never growled or bit. I can remember him barking only four times his entire life. We literally were concerned about his vocal chords at one point.
But Federico said its impossible to predict how a dog will be at the shelter by how it behaves at home.
The really unfortunate part for Tucker, Federico said, is that the front staff was putting a note in (the computer) that the owner was coming back for him, but the computer wasnt updated. By the time Miss Miller got back, hed already been euthanized.
As a result of that incident, Federico said the center is now recommending that people who surrender a dog for adoption remain at the center until theyre sure the animal can be processed. If not, they can take it back home.
Whew. Up until now, Id always thought the saddest dog story ever was the one contained within the song Mr. Bojangles. You know, where the dude:
spoke through tears of 15 years how his dog and him traveled about.
The dog up and died. He up and died. And after 20 years he still grieves.
Tucker didnt up and die. He was killed because of a slow-to-update computer or some other reason.
Whatever the reason, the Millers, too, still grieve.
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