Discussion: Lost CA Sheltie Adopted by New Owners

An elderly couple whose lost Sheltie got picked up by Stockton Animal Services in December was pulled by a rescue group then adopted while the owners were still searching for her.  The new owners, who had Tipsy for around 2 weeks by the time Mr. and Mrs. Robinson found out what had happened to their pet of 8 years, are refusing to give her back.

[Sharon] Robinson was 10 days too late, and the new family was already in love with Tipsy.
“I just want… I want her back,” she said.
She’s heartbroken and has even offered the new adoptive family a refund for Tipsy’s adoption fee. They have declined.
“They’ve loved her for a little over two weeks. I’ve loved her for eight and a half years.”

Mrs. Robinson still has the pedigree that came with Tipsy when she was a puppy. She searched for her to the best of her knowledge and ability, even when she was sick. She is heartbroken and can not talk about Tipsy without crying. Although it’s impossible to know how Tipsy is feeling, it would be hard to imagine she is not missing the only family she ever knew.

Setting all this aside for the moment, I found this troubling:

We also reached out to the city of Stockton’s Animal Services. They declined an on-camera interview. The animal services department is now investigating Tipsy’s case to see if the proper protocol was followed.

The pound doesn’t know if proper procedures were followed? And they won’t discuss the case? Not good.

Back to Tipsy’s ownership:  On the one hand, Mrs. Robinson certainly presents a reasonable case that Tipsy was well cared for and loved by her family.  I don’t think the new owners would have any worries about her quality of life if Tipsy was returned.  On the other hand, the new owners had a Sheltie who died recently and found Tipsy, whom they were told was a stray and that no owner had claimed her.  They adopted her in good faith and instantly fell in love with her, something I think we all can relate to.  Getting a new pet helps some owners in the grieving process and perhaps Tipsy has been providing much needed comfort to the new owners.

What would you do if you had adopted Tipsy under these circumstances?  Mrs. Robinson says she may hire an attorney.  That might not be a bad idea, especially considering that the pound doesn’t know if proper procedures were followed (which opens up the possibility that Tipsy was not held for the legally mandated holding period and therefore not eligible for release to the rescue group in the first place).  I would hate to see a lengthy court battle in this situation, or any pet custody situation really.  What other options might exist for the Robinsons?

(Thanks Anne for the link.)

45 thoughts on “Discussion: Lost CA Sheltie Adopted by New Owners

  1. IMO, the new “owners” should give the dog back. That is the morally correct action, period. Surely, another dog can be found for them. They may be attached to Tipsy after 2 weeks, but NO WAY they could be attached to her to the degree that the couple who had her for the first 8 years of her life are. DO THE RIGHT THING, and give the dog back to her long-time original owners!

  2. I’m glad she was returned. Thanks for the update. I would like to think I am the kind of person who would be able to give a dog up to the original owners, even if I’d fallen in love with her after just 2 weeks. In reality, it might take me a little time to get there, as it did these people. But I can’t envision myself keeping a dog under those circumstances.

  3. I wonder if Stockton is still investigating itself or if they’ve decided to drop it now that the sitch is resolved. I bet other Stockton owners who believed their pets were permanently lost are now pondering possibilities.

    1. I’m not going to defend Stockton AS on this – -I have no idea if they followed protocol or not. But I also cannot blame them for not knowing for sure if protocol was followed right off the cuff. Likely they got a call on this about a dog named “Tipsy” but if the dog came in as a stray at the shelter, would have had a different name. And with 11,000 animals that come into that shelter, it would be a challenge for anyone to know the exact circumstances of every single animal that comes through the door without checking their system – and while they could just assume protocol was followed, mistakes do happen (it can be as simple as typing in the wrong date), and better to look it up and be sure than say protocol was followed when they don’t really know for sure. I respect them more for saying they don’t know for sure yet…

      1. Sounds good, Brent, but Imma have to call bullshit on it.

        The WOMAN (with apparently very little in the way of internet resources) found out that the rescue group adopted out her dog. The rescue group KNOWS what dog it is. Tracing the ID back through the shelter system from that end point is EASY if the rescue keeps half decent records. Get the dog’s ID number, you’ve got all of the dog’s records.

        And from there, you know if protocol was followed or not. The fact that it’s in question means that protocol may not always be followed, which means that they have a larger problem than just one dog…

      2. I’m very familiar with how the process works. But it kind of depends on when they talked to the news media how long they had to track it down. May only take 10 minutes, but if the person who received the phone call found out from the news media there was a problem then I wouldn’t expect them to necessarily know. By most accounts this is a way above-average performing shelter and while I’m not defending them, I’m willing to give them a bit more benefit of the doubt. http://www.stocktongov.com/government/departments/police/anStats.html

      3. Mrs. Robinson found out where Tipsy was on January 12th and most likely contacted them ASAP. The article is dated January 19th.

      4. Of course. But if they’re an above-average performing shelter, they should have someone there who knows that when the media calls, you tell them that you need a little time to look into it, you’ll get back to them. Then you actually, you know, look into it.

        Because whether or not protocol was followed is kind of important to the functioning of your organization. And if there was a failure in protocol, someone needs to manage that situation before another dog ends up dead or adopted or whatever when they had an owner searching for them.

      5. Sarah – It says that Mrs Robinson was working with the Valley Humane Society. It is unclear if anyone at Stockton AC really knew much of what was going on. Again, not really trying to defend anyone here, because none of us know whether protocol was followed or not — just stating for the record that in a shelter that takes in more than 30 animals every day it’s not always so easy to know off the top of your head the circumstances with an animal that left the shelter 2 weeks ago. And maybe, just maybe, we could give a shelter that is performing better than 95% of the shelters out there could get the benefit of the doubt given that none of us has enough information to know the truth.

      6. Yes, I get that she was working with VHS because they’re the ones who ultimately adopted out the dog. But putting myself in her situation, I would also have immediately contacted Stockton Animal Services to have them investigate. It also seems reasonable that VHS would have contacted them as well. I’m not saying that Mrs. Robinson definitely contacted SAS or that they definitely did something wrong here, but it seems a little fishy that they had nothing to say about the situation for the article on the 19th. My point about the dates is that it wouldn’t have been off the top of their head if they had been contacted a week earlier by someone who was backtracking and presumably had the dogs A# (if VHS pulled the dog from SAS and didn’t have the A# or didn’t want to give it to Mrs. Robinson, then that’s a problem) or at the very least the name the dog had been given and where she had been transferred.

        The fact that VHS was adamant that proper protocol was indeed followed only two days later doesn’t make it any better. It makes me wonder whether there was any communication between VHS and SAS on this issue prior to it becoming a media issue. Was it not a problem when it was just the Robinsons who were upset about it? Maybe they were communicating and investigating and it happened to take them exactly 9 days to confirm that protocol was followed. But I’m not convinced yet. And I’m also quite aware that high performing shelters actually have more incentive to cover up their “oopsies.”

      7. I’m not sure Ms. Robinson contacting SAS ever would have made a lot of sense. After the 4 day hold period, SAS could legally transfer to VHS and VHS becomes the “owners” of the dog. Then, once the dog is adopted out, the adopter becomes the new owner. By day 10, SAS is two parties removed from ownership, has no relationship with the adopter, and no legal power at all. And there probably isn’t a lot of reason that SAS needed to be involved as VHS would probably be working with the adopter to try to negotiate a return to the original home. This really is a bad situation all around that no one wants to have happen, but it does from time to time. I’m really glad this one worked out for the best.

      8. I would’ve called to find out what happened and to verify the intake and transfer dates. You’re right that there was probably nothing they could do at that point to get the dog returned, but it would make sense for them to be involved in any investigation to verify that protocols were followed and to figure out if there’s any way to prevent this sort of thing from happening again in the future.

  4. I’m glad the dog is back with her original people, and I’d like to think I would have given her back in the same situation. At this point I’m sort of used to falling in a love with a dog to then hand the dog over to someone else, but then again when you foster you know from the beginning that that’s the plan. I do think that if we start telling people that they have to return their adopted dog to the original owner whenever they show up, it’s going to be yet another barrier to getting shelter and rescue dogs adopted. It’s up to the shelters and rescues to follow protocols to make sure this doesn’t happen in the first place.

    1. I do think that if we start telling people that they have to return their adopted dog to the original owner whenever they show up, it’s going to be yet another barrier to getting shelter and rescue dogs adopted. It’s up to the shelters and rescues to follow protocols to make sure this doesn’t happen in the first place.

      Well put. In Tipsy’s case, I think the circumstances made it easier to return the dog. The owners are elderly, they’d never lost a dog before, didn’t know exactly what to do and still managed to find her within a few weeks of the adoption. Under different circumstances, the considerations would change obviously. Stockton not knowing if they followed the law is troubling. And all these so-called animal welfare groups pushing for zero day holding periods for lost pets has me very concerned.

      1. Zero-day hold periods is ridiculous. It presumes that no one is looking for lost pets. Typical stray-hold periods are already so short (in Delaware it’s 72 hrs). While it needs to be practical for the holding facility, such a facility has to commit to pet-owner reunifications or it just amounts to pet flipping.

      2. Out of curiosity, what animal welfare groups are pushing for zero-day holding periods for dogs? I’m curious, because I’ve not seen any.

    1. Where do we draw the line though? If you adopt a dog and the previous owner turns up a month later, are you a jackass if you don’t return the dog? What about 3 months? 6 months? A year?

      1. Yes! You have a dog you know obviously had an owner and strayed. You could always know in the back of your mind that it might be reclaimed, no matter the length of time. A microchip or tattoo would have been prudent and saved a lot of heartache all around. Proof of ownership would be difficult without one.
        At least the dog lived to be released from the “shelter.” Not all dogs are that lucky, even when the owner is known.

      2. So if someone shows up looking for the dog I found on the street two and half years ago and has pictures or vet records or some other proof of ownership, I’m a jackass for not giving her back? She was in the shelter’s public searchable database for two weeks, she was physically in the shelter in a publicly accessible area for a week, I put up numerous signs in the area where I found here, posted on craigslist, and scoured craigslist “missing” listings. I assumed when I adopted her back from the shelter that the shelter and I had done our due diligence, that whoever had lost her wasn’t interested in getting her back, and I was adopting her free and clear.

        Most people would not be willing to adopt a dog, fall in love with the dog, put in money, time, and effort to fix numerous behavioral and medical problems, and then give the dog to someone else after months or years. That’s part of the reason it’s so difficult to find fosters. It’s already difficult enough to get shelter and rescue dogs adopted; if people were told upon adopting pets that had come in as strays “Oh by the way, if the original owner ever shows up you’ll have to give up this pet” then what do you think would happen?

        There has to be a limit. I don’t think three days is enough, but shelters *have* to move them out at some point. RTO would be ideal but isn’t always going to happen. Obviously adopting them out is preferable to killing them, and most people aren’t going to adopt animals if they can’t adopt them free and clear. Of course the shelters and rescue organizations have to follow proper procedures and do everything they can during that hold period to reunite animals with their owners.

      3. I once found a lost dog and advertised looking for his owner for two months, although never found them. Pounds are too quick to move ’em out or kill ’em.

      1. Hit the highlighted link starting with pic.twitter.com. That’ll bring up the tweet.

      2. I don’t see the link either, but clicking the photo itself takes me to twitter.

  5. I’m very glad they gave the dog back, I would have given her back as well. Not that it would have been easy, it’s so easy to fall in love with a dog or cat at first sight for a lot of us. But if they hadn’t given the dog back I’m not sure what they could have done. Joint custody seems problematic for the animal if not the people. I did at one time have a cat get out, she was informally adopted by a single mom down the road. The moms young son was terribly attached to her and when we found her, perhaps a week later, he clung to her crying. We let them keep her, she had always wanted more attention than we could give with several animals, here she had all the attention. That was tough but she was very happy. We visited from time to time and she lived happily there til old age claimed her. Tough call sometimes.

  6. When adopting from a dog pound or “rescue” the only time dogs should be moved out as quickly as is commonly done is when they are relinquished by owner. BTW, the new owners of the dog in this case did NOT have an interest in advertising to find the owner as claimed by the person arguing ad nauseous with me. If there was a genuine interest in rehoming dogs in need it would be illegal for shelters and “rescues” to import dogs from other countries. Hundreds of thousands of them, each and every year.

  7. I think the public pressure after Tipsy made several national (and international) news outlets made the adopters give her back. Prior to that happening they flat out refused.

    RE the protocols concern: I can’t find them now, but two articles I read about Tipsy held two gems. One: she had only been in animal control for about one day before being pulled. She was pulled early though because she was scared. And a health purebred that could easily be sold for top dollar. Two: conformation that the hold wasn’t up when pulled and the other shelter was over an hour away. Animal control also took a month to admit they transferred her.

  8. I left out one thing about the stray hold: it was completed at that shelter an hour away. Apparently, the facility that pulled Tipsy has a habit of pulling animals before the hold is up and finishing it with them. Because moving animals an hour away from where they were found is always the best way to ensure they are easily found by their owners. /sarcasm

    1. If this is the case … good grief. How are people supposed to find their lost pets, if they’re being swapped around like this? An hour away? That’s what, 100 miles or so. It would never occur to me to look for a pet lost close to home that far away.

  9. how can you call someone a jackass Geneva? these people saved the dogs life. What if Stockton put it to sleep then what the original owners would have never seen tipsy again. The real story is the adoptive family just had there own sheltie pass away two weeks prior to them adopting tipsy. Obviously they were looking for a sheltie and came across and found tipsy. Imagine there feelings after losing a pet to the joy of adopting tipsy and mending there hearts to giving her up again a mixed bag of emotions. The irresponsibility is solely on the original owners they could of done a lot of things different to prevent this from happening its a 2 way street social media jumps to conclusion without knowing the full story.

  10. The owners were out of town when Tipsy got out. She was moved an hour away within a couple of days and the facility that made the move didn’t tell her when she called for weeks. It should go without saying if even if they did go to animal control in person Tipsy wouldn’t have been there. She was also moved prior to her hold being completed. Tell me, how many owners do you know who would have been able to track their pet down in a situation like this?

    It’s a awful situation all around. But if they just lost their Sheltie, they damn well should realize just what they were putting her owners through out of their shelflshness without the public shaming.

  11. I still can’t find an article with the dates, but I did find this FB post with the information I am referring to. Tipsy didn’t even get out until the sixth. So how was she there on the fifth? She was pulled by the other facility on the eighth and the balance of the ten day hold was completed an hour away.

    The husband has stage four cancer. They both changed their plans to fly home as soon as they found out Tipsy had gone missing. It is disgusting that anyone is blamining them for this situation at all.


  12. I’ll stop flooding the comments now, but I want to share one last thing. This is a letter/email the facility sent to Sandy. They back up the fact Tipsy magically appeared in animal control one day before she got out and that she was moved to them before the hold period was up. Oh, but she was left up on the “lost and found” website. Somehow they would have us believe that makes for a legal hold.

    Maybe I’m too jaded at this point. But I am very disturbed by the fact the name they came up with for Tipsy was Bitzy.


    1. I would actually be ok with a physical transfer before the hold is up if the animal isn’t doing well in the shelter, as long as the animal really is on the web site with a good clear photo, and shelter staff are giving the correct information to people who call or go to the shelter looking for their lost pet. I think someone is fibbing here, because they’re saying Tipsy was on the lost and found site, but Mrs. Robinson says she was checking that site and didn’t find her. I just looked at Stockton Animal Services’ site (link below), and their database is very easy to search, so I’m guessing if Mrs. Robinson didn’t find Tipsy then either she wasn’t listed at all or she was egregiously miscategorized (e.g. as a cat.)


      1. Someone is lying all around. Tipsy couldn’t have gotten there before the sixth. Someone had to dilbertly backdate her records. And it looks like it was done with the intention of moving her to the other facility as soon as possible.

        The Robertsons had retained a lawyer. He was within a day of filing paperwork that would publicly name those who were keeping Tipsy. That same paperwork would also force both facilities to hand over all paperwork and communications regarding Tipsy. To me, that just proves there was major wrong doing with this dog.

      2. Or, perhaps it really was more incompetence than malfeasance – I wouldn’t assume a wrong date was intentional – but they assumed the problem would go away. When it didn’t, they cut line.

      3. Most animal control records are auto time stamped as they are entered in. They almost have to be as they are official government records. Any “adjustments” have to be manually (read: dilberately) entered.

        This reads like they thought the Robertsons would never find their dog. And when they did, they assumed it would all just go away. Very few people can get the massive media coverage and hire a lawyer.

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