Commentary

Saunders: Dog euthanized within hour at shelter; now family grieves

bsaunders@newsobserver.comNovember 28, 2012 

Tucker, owned by Danielle Miller and her family, was euthanized at Wake County Animal Center.

COURTESY OF DANIELLE MILLER

For at least one local family, here’s a new twist on an old saying: If you love something, set it free. If it doesn’t 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.” That’s 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, he’s so beautiful’ and they’d try to re-home him,” she told me Wednesday. “I asked if there was any chance he’d be euthanized, and they said ‘Yes,’ but don’t worry. It’s 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 Miller’s 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 family’s Apex apartment didn’t provide that luxury.

“We thought it would work here, but it didn’t,” she said.

It became obvious that the smaller surroundings weren’t good for him. “We read about the center’s adoption policy and thought it would be best” to let Tucker go someplace where he could roam.

‘Aggressive’ Tucker

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 she’d 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, ‘Don’t bother. He’s already dead.’ I said there must be some mistake.” The person on the other end, she said, assured her there was no mistake. “ ‘I’m looking at him. He’s 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. “We’re an extremely busy center. In the context of what we do every day, that’s about twice as long as usual.

“We’re not here to euthanize pets,” she said. “I’m 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 there’s 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, we’re 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 it’s impossible to predict how a dog will be at the shelter by how it behaves at home.

‘Unfortunate part’

“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 wasn’t updated. By the time Miss Miller got back, he’d 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 they’re sure the animal can be processed. If not, they can take it back home.

Whew. Up until now, I’d 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 didn’t 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.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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