Denver Animal Shelter Adopts Out Well-Loved, Lost Dog Despite Owner’s Attempts to Reclaim

Chewie and Korey, as shown on
Chewie and Korey, as shown on

Korey Wetherell left his beloved pet Chewbacca in the care of roommates when he went out of town at the beginning of the month.  The dog was accidentally lost and a roommate began searching for him after notifying Korey, who immediately posted a lost dog ad on Craigslist.  After learning that Chewie had been picked up by the Denver Animal Shelter, Korey called and emailed the facility, explaining that he wanted to reclaim his dog but was out of town.  He sent a friend to pick up Chewie but the friend was turned away because he could not prove ownership.

When Korey arrived home, DAS was closed.  He then had to go out of town again before the place re-opened.  He called the city’s 311 line to explain the situation and reiterate that he wanted his dog back, he just wasn’t able to get there in person to reclaim him.  Worried with concern for Chewie, Korey again sent a friend to DAS to try to bail the dog out, asking the friend to have staff call him on the phone and/or do whatever was necessary in order to prove ownership.  When the friend arrived, he was told DAS had adopted Chewie to a family:

“Because animals are considered property, that animal was considered abandoned,” Jill Brown with the Denver Animal Shelter said.

The shelter said the 5-day window for owners to retrieve their lost pet had passed, so Chewbacca went to a new home.

There is clearly no excuse for this egregious betrayal of the human-animal bond by the Denver Animal Shelter.  A hold should have been placed on the dog and/or an arrangement made to release the dog to the owner’s representative.  DAS knew Chewie was owned and loved, that the owner wanted him back but was out of town, and that he had sent someone to try and reclaim the dog on his behalf.  They sold him anyway then, when confronted by the local news, refer to the pet as abandoned property.

DAS contacted the people who adopted Chewie but that family has declined to return the dog.  Korey is heartbroken and made an appeal to the family on the local news:

“You’re doing a great thing adopting a dog, but help a dog who really needs it; because Chewbacca doesn’t need a new set of arms to hold him. He has that here,” he said.

He is also posting on Facebook and Craigslist, hoping the family who has his pet will let him come home:

If you are the person, or know the person who has him, please contact me. He has never been to the shelter before, and he got out while I was out of town. Had I known the City of Denver could and would do this without notifying me, I would have crossed heaven and hell to get him back. He is an amazing dog and I want the best for him, but we have 4 years together and I don’t think anyone knowing the circumstance would do this to somebody. Please contact me if you know any information.

I asked Jill Brown (quoted above) and DAS executive director Alice Nightengale why Chewbacca wasn’t placed on a hold after the owner contacted DAS and said he wanted to reclaim his dog but was out of town.  Neither immediately responded.  I will update this post if I receive any response.  DAS has not responded to my queries regarding their mistreatment of animals in the past and the staff seems particularly wrong-headed but we’ll see how long they feel confident hiding behind their “abandoned property” defense on this one.

Denver taxpayers deserve better.  If the shelter isn’t a safe place for lost pets whose owners are known to the staff, it certainly doesn’t bode well for how stray pets of unknown ownership and feral cats are handled.  I hope DAS starts doing its job to protect lost and homeless pets and that Korey is reunited with Chewie very soon.

(Thanks Davyd and Clarice for sending me links on this story.)

37 thoughts on “Denver Animal Shelter Adopts Out Well-Loved, Lost Dog Despite Owner’s Attempts to Reclaim

  1. They really need to get legal help right away. There is some animal-related legal activity in the Denver area & they ought to be able to find an animal-oriented attorney. If the city if sued they may be required to divulge “new owner” info. during the discovery process. It’s basic property law — shelter transferred ownership unlawfully.

    1. I agree, and was glad to see that Korey’s most recent Facebook post says:

      “I have tried to be mature and look for a positive solution to this terrible situation, and instead of embracing the opportunity the family who has Chewie remains silent. Please take this last chance to do the right thing. I will do everything I have to to get my dog back, and that includes legal action.”

      I hope he does sue, and that the family insisting on keeping Chewie is required to give him back.

  2. A heartbreaking story that does not have to be. And it leaves questions in one’s mind about how my local shelter would handle this situation. The claim by most shelters that they take all means to find a pet’s owner is really a big unknown.

  3. morally bereft period.. I guess he is lucky in one way if this had been a pit bull ( like Jade) the dog would be dead and the owner charged.. Denver sucks for dogs

  4. I would have shown up myself to pick up the dog. I don’t know if this story passes the smell test. “owner” seems to be out of town all the time? Still if this is true and the owner wants to reclaim his dog, he should have been given the chance. If the “friend” was at the shelter why didn’t he adopt the dog and return it to the owner? So many questions.

    1. IDK why there always has to be one in every bunch that feels the need to self-validate what a superior owner they are to the owner who has been victimized. Congratulations. You win your own award. You are the best pet owner, you love your pets more than everyone else, you would never be in a crisis situation and make a judgment call that you would look back on with regret, and you would never believe a shelter actually shelters animals. Please look down upon the rest of us mere humans with charity.

      1. good grief Sally, some people have to travel for work and stuff. he left the dog in the care of friends! some people have to make money by being on the road. is that a sin? leaving the pet with a friend or family or pet sitter does not make one a bad pet owner… it kind of shows RESPONSIBILITY if you ask me.

        the so called shelter had phone calls from him, his friend was sent in, what they did is clearly not right!

        the friend may not have realized that adopting the dog could have been an option.

  5. The “SHELTER” was 100% wrong and must be required to fix what it did. They knew Chewie was not abandoned and they need to contact the adopters, get Chewie back and return him to his OWNER. It does NOT matter if they want to keep him. The “SHELTER” had no right to rehome him. And WHO knowingly keeps someone else’s dog?! They don’t deserve any consideration beyond a refund and their choice of an AVAILABLE dog at no charge. And Korey’s mistake was leaving town AGAIN without retrieving Chewie, no matter what the reason was.

  6. A well-trained dog is highly adoptable, and adoption means money for the shelter. Too many shelters now are reaping the benefits of their non-profit status and selling dogs for a lot of money. I’d be willing to bet the adopting family in this case paid a pretty penny, and now they have a well-socialized, well-trained dog without having to put in any time and effort—and I’m also willing to bet this shelter sold them this dog for a hefty fee. Those who run shelters these days don’t care about animals; all they care about is profit.

  7. Some heartless people here. Even the new adoptive family. How cold and heartless they are to keep this dog under the circumstances! Denver-this is so wrong!

  8. Not surprised. These shelters and AC are acting as if they are above the law, but what do you expect? Our elected officials have forgotten who pays their salaries and who are THEIR employers. Same with the AC.
    Sorry for the family that was caught up in this debacle. Denver AC has stolen that dog. It was proven that it was owned and they decided they could sell it. It’s all about the money!!!!
    However – the family that has Chewie should do the right thing and give the dog back to the original and LEGAL owner.

  9. I feel no sympathy for the people who bought stolen property at this point. They are not thinking about the law, and most important of all, they are not thinking about the dog they claim to love. He wants to go home, and should be home now. But no, they are going to allow this to go to court and make it harder on everyone involved. And they will loose.

  10. I agree that (with hindsight) Kory blew it by leaving town a second time. However, he had been in contact with the shelter and had sent a friend to the shelter as his “representative”. I don’t blame Kory for any of this. He had communicated to the shelter so they knew he was unable to get the dog immediately. Kory’s only fault was he was too trusting and naive to see that shelters like this don’t give a damn about him or his dog. They are there to “process” the animals by either getting them out of the shelter asap or killing them. Unfortunately Kory thought that the word “shelter” actually applied to this place when in fact it is just a business for holding animals until they can get rid of them. So the word shelter here is false and misleading. A real shelter would have done everything in their power to reunite man with dog.

    1. and it also says he did go to the so called shelter, and it was closed. shelter = $helter.

      hug your pet close people, there are evil people disguised as animal lovers out to get them and make some cash from them, just my humble opinion.

  11. On FB, the DAS is blahhing this blahblah:
    Denver Animal Shelter We wish we had the dog to be able to reunite. However, the dog left a week ago & we have been unable to convince the new adopters to return the animal thus far.

    We always wants to reunite animals with their owners if possible. We kept the dog for the appropriate stray hold of 5 days & it was not identified with tags or a microchip to help identify the owner. Our process is to then adopt the dog if it appears to be abandoned. We were notified by phone that there was a potential owner for this dog; sadly though, the owner did not come to claim his dog.

    Per our communications & media comments from the previous owner: “I admit my own fault, but this is simply a case of miscommunication, I still support the Shelters overall goals, but in the end I want my dog. I want to further stress that I am not seeking to blame or cause any issues, I’m just looking to get my buddy back. I have maintained my own fault in the matter, and blame miscommunication, and not lack of care on Denver Animal Shelters part. I think the best outcome would be the return of Chewie, but also the family who has him adopting a pet in need. This isn’t a reason to cause grief, but to show that compassion and understanding can lead to everyone living a better life. The Shelter followed legal protocol in the nature of the law, it was due to the miscommunication that all of this occurred.”

    We have since been actively communicating with the previous owner & new adopters to try to help make a reunion with the previous owner. However, legally, we cannot require the new adopters to return the dog. We were waiting for them to discuss his return with their entire family but have not heard back with them after several attempts to get an update.

    1. They always want to reunite animals with their owners. Unless, you know, they don’t.

      They had an owner’s representative there to claim him, but they would not release the dog. They knew who the owner was, but adopted him out, anyway.

      Yeah, tell me again how hard they tried.

      1. EXACTLY!! Just like the Cavalier King Charles spaniel in Long Island. That owner was lucky enough that public outcry got him his dog back before they sold it off. These people KNEW there was an owner for Chewie, yet still weaseled out of giving him back when there were buyers lined up. I don’t buy that, “Oh, but we tried. Sorta. Kinda”, BS either.

    2. Remember this?

      The Ravens Twitter account trumpeted back in May, “Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.”

      The Ravens deleted that tweet after the video of Ray Rice punching out his fiancee in the elevator was made public.

  12. I think Pawn Shops have better rules to cover stolen property than shelters.
    For that is what Denver did- they STOLE this dog and sold it.
    Considering the push for market share and profits recently rearing its head in shelter management.. They are now suggesting shelters do selective breeding to maintain the above….
    I am certainly sure I am living in the Twilight Zone

  13. I would not be so calm and PC if my dog was taken from me in this manner. Korey has been very patient and polite during this ordeal. The family who adopted his dog has never been named publicly, Why? I’m sure there is some record out there that is discoverable. I hope someone finds it, puts them on blast. Give the dog back!

  14. I am horrified that you people think shelters are “selling” animals and making money off of them. Educate yourself. Please.

    1. Peg, no, in general, shelters and rescues aren’t “we’ll ng” dogs and cats, and certainly aren’t making money on it.

      But sometimes they do.

      And some groups and shelters do, indeed, seem to make a regular practice of it.

      When a purebred, healthy, trained, friendly dog comes in, that’s a temptation, because those dogs are fast turnarounds for low expense. Some rescues and shelters build in extra temptation for themselves by having differential adoption fees based on the perceived desirability of the pet.

      And when you see a case like this, which sadly is not as isolated as I’d prefer to believe, where the owner is known and trying to reclaim the pet, it’s hard to call it anything else.

    2. I’ve been involved in sheltering and rescue for nearly 30 years. There are indeed shelters and rescues that have become glorified pet shops, and who collect the most marketable animals to sell, even if they have to do so by nefarious methods. They’ve propagandized the public so successfully that most people are brainwashed against getting the RIGHT pet for their lifestyle. They feel they MUST ‘adopt’ it from a ‘shelter’ or ‘rescue’ no matter how wrong that animal is for the, or they are unworthy, disturbed individuals. You must NEVER consider going to a “GREEDER”!!! And they’ve done this KNOWING that the NUMBER ONE reason dogs are dumped in shelters is because they weren’t the RIGHT dog for the home they were in. Their temperament wasn’t what was necessary for harmonious living in the household they were placed in. Their trainability didn’t meet expectations. Their energy level was too high, or too low. Their grooming needs were more than desired. That is what, “No time for the dog” means on owner surrender questionnaires. And if you ‘adopt’ a dog that doesn’t fit your family, then return it, you get zero $$ back. Then they ‘adopt’ it out again at the same price. And this is done over and over again until the dog gets lucky and finds a family dedicated to keeping it, or it winds up dead, in one way or another.

      MOST first time dog owners would highly benefit from the relationship and mentoring provided by buying from a responsible breeder. Breeders work hard to fit the right dog into the right home, give lifetime support and education to the new owners, and take the dog back if they get it wrong. I have to sadly admit that most shelters will give you a nasty attitude and suggest you bring the dog back if you call with a question about why the dog does something undesirable, like lunge at strangers when walking on a leash. Then they proceed to make you feel like dirt.

      It’s hard to admit that something you spent thirty years of your life supporting can go so WRONG, especially when you gave it your heart and soul. I’m heartbroken, disappointed, and disgusted by what so many groups have become. But I can’t deny it or blindly wave the “We’re the GOOD GUYS” flag when I see the wrong doing. I can only work to FIX it. And trust me, I’m trying!

  15. An employee of a Texas shelter turned out to be intentionally muddying up my attempts to reclaim my high value dog. While I was at work, a visiting friend accidentally left the wrong door and gate combination vulnerable.

    The first two days a shelter 25 miles away, one of twenty or so I had called, denied having any dog of any similar description. Denied again when I visited twice and walked through. Then I thought to hike around to the back of the property where I called loudly for him. He answered immediately. I went back inside, “I found my dog!” as they still denied having him. Going back in I pushed into the no admittance area where they were keeping him out of sight, in a quarantine room!

    A series of reunion stalls followed: proper i.d., additional documents, different form of payment, etc. After three days of runaround, each time getting additional b.s. requirements, I got lucky. It was adoption day as I was presenting still another pack of documents when they opened for the day. A guy called out from behind me to the guy at the desk I was talking to, one who was filling out adoption paperwork, “Hey Buddy, thanks for all your help in holding that dog for me. I’ve always dreamed of having a Samoyed.”

    So busted. I rescued my beloved companion with seconds to spare. The shelter, who it turns out had coaxed my trusting dog into their truck with biscuits, denied any wrongdoing.

    There are so many dedicated people and excellent shelters who do good deeds. Bless them! Shelters should all be required to openly admit and record whether they have any knowledge or any communication on ownership. An owner stuck out of town should be able to make a phone payment to cover boarding expenses under an ownership declaration provision which should stop the clock on adoption. The shelter is not out anything. Show some ethics.

  16. When I was a kid, my family adopted a dog at the shelter. He’d been there 12 days and posted in the paper, so it was legal. We had him several years when the old owner saw him and said the dog was his. My parents returned the dog, to the dismay of NINE bawling children. The former owner was not right in our case. But my parents taught us to do the right thing even when it’s hard to do. In Chewbacca’s case, I don’t think this is hard at all. That family knows what’s going on. They can end this just by bringing back the dog. There are countless other good dogs needing help and they ought to know they could find another one to love and care for. What they are doing is pretty cruel.

  17. Peg- I am horrified you don’t believe shelters/AC not o my steal pets but they do so for their friends, for themselves, for their favorite rescues. I was once offered a pure breed cat that had just come in on the truck – bypassing the 3 day hold time- etc etc because they were favoring me as I had just pulled 21 moms and babies off the kill list. I thanked them bit declines wanti g to give the real owners time to reclaim. I called the day of release from hold and was told the owner reclaimed. I would like to think that was the case but I think it was given to another rescue
    This happens ALL the time with cats….

  18. Shirley, thank you for advocating for our companions! How do we contact you? We have this same thing happening in NC. A dog was adopted out by the shelter even after they knew he had an owner who was coming for him! The family has two little girls who have been heartbroken over this and the family that adopted him could care less.

  19. Denver Animal Shelter seems to have turned off the reviews and ratings feature of their Facebook page. There were a lot of posts to that section asking about this case since many of the people they banned from their FB page for asking there were still able to post to the reviews (you cannot ban people from replying to or liking reviews of your page).

    There was another review to their page just a few weeks prior to this case with someone who had a similar story of finding her pet at DAS, calling and letting them know she was on her way, and arriving only to find the dog had already been adopted out.

    The last information to Korey’s YouCaring fundraising page for legal fees was that he had filed a petition seeking an order to have his dog returned. That was about a week ago and there was no new news thereafter.

    1. All DAS has to do is keep playing the waiting game until the public outcry dies down so they can again hold their hands out for donations to help save animals or whatever malarkey. What a disgrace. I am keeping a good thought for Korey and Chewie.

  20. I emailed Korey way back when this first happened. I had an idea. I have worked in law for a long time and possession is 9/10ths of the law. He did not reach out and I found his sister on facebook and asked her to have him call me. I hired a private investigator, willing to spend my own money, and we were to meet in the park the next day. He had some connections and was almost positive he could get the address of the people who had Chewy. Meanwhile, Korey emailed me a nasty email back saying I was a scammer, and to never contact him again and he was going to block me. I have no idea why. I did finally get a response from someone who knew Korey and they could not figure it out either. They said they would give Korey the PI’s name. I called the meet off as I had no way to reach Korey. If it was me, I’d get that address, scope the neighborhood and see if he was fenced in a back yard at some point. Get something delicious and have a leash, walk by, give my doggy his treat and off we go. I’d park in the next block and have my plates covered. No one would ever get away with what they did. I never quit. Never.

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