FIRST, THE GOOD news: Vickie and Mark Remolde got their dog Jake back alive, if damaged.
The bad news: It almost didn't happen, because of confusion at the front desk at Philadelphia's animal shelter, the Animal Care and Control Team.
July 13, Mark, 58, was doing yard work at their Roxborough home when Jake, a 4-year-old pit-bull mix, slipped out and vanished.
"I'm hysterical that Jake's missing," said Vickie, who took to social media to post pictures of Jake. She doggedly hung fliers in the neighborhood and contacted the Montgomery County SPCA. It wasn't until the next day that someone told her to call ACCT.
When a stray is turned in, ACCT policy is to hold the animal for 48 hours to allow owners time to find their dog. Except that doesn't always happen.
Vickie, 51, was advised to come in and look, which Mark did Friday morning. He did not find Jake, but left fliers behind.
"At this point, we think somebody has him," said Vickie.
This is what the Remoldes knew at that time.
Here is what they did not know:
After Jake disappeared, "he wandered up to my steps to say hello to my dog," said Chris Ferraro, 30, who had taken Strider, his 75-pound lab-shepherd mix, for a walk near his Manayunk home.
Ferraro let the dogs play, thinking Jake's owner was nearby. When no one appeared after 15 minutes, Ferraro took Jake to ACCT.
If Jake had a name tag with his owner's phone number, a license, or a microchip, the story would end here. The owners could have been found. But Jake had none of the three, Vickie told me. He does now.
At ACCT, things went sideways. Ferraro said he was giving his information to a woman at the counter when another man walked in and asked if Jake was his dog.
When Ferraro said no, the other man asked if he could have Jake.
"No," Ferraro replied. "He's someone else's dog."
At this point, Ferraro said an ACCT kennel attendant came over and told the second man that if he wanted to have the dog, he could. Ferraro said he protested.
The attendant said the second man could have Jake as long as the owner had a chance to reclaim him.
The second man's information was taken by ACCT and he was allowed to leave with Jake.
None of this was related to Mark less than 48 hours later, when he arrived at ACCT.
The Remoldes continued their search for their dog until, by chance, a friend said he knew a man who had taken a dog to ACCT. That's how they connected with Good Samaritan Ferraro.
Knowing their dog had been brought to ACCT, they returned July 22, and again July 23.
They told a staffer what happened and, after some confusion, ACCT located the man who had Jake, called, and left a voicemail. Vickie and Mark waited for four hours, then demanded that someone go to the man's address and retrieve Jake.
ACCT agreed - but the man wasn't at the address he gave.
"I started crying," said Vickie. "This guy took him for purposes that were not good, and how could you give my dog to a man in the lobby who was there to intercept dogs?"
The Remoldes wanted to view ACCT video, to see the man, perhaps get his license number. ACCT refused. They got a lawyer.
Several days later, the man brought Jake in.
"Jake is 10 to 15 pounds lighter; he had a red rash on his neck; and something was wrong with his tail," Vickie told me.
The dog's tail was burned, "it was black, like charcoal," she said, adding that her formerly playful dog was now fearful.
Vickie doesn't know what happened to Jake, maybe doesn't want to know, but does want to know why ACCT didn't observe the 48-hour hold policy. Had that been followed, she would have had her dog back unharmed.
There is a reason, I was told by ACCT executive director Vincent Medley. When a dog is accepted for admission - ACCT can refuse no animal - it comes in as "found" or "intake," which means the owner is surrendering the animal. When a dog is "found," the "finder" is asked if he or she would like to keep the dog, to save space in the shelter. Dogs coming in as "intake" must be held for 48 hours.
Ferraro said he was at ACCT to turn the dog in: "I told them specifically I could not keep the dog."
Medley claimed Ferraro left before the paperwork was done. Ferraro said that before he left, he asked the woman at the window - who was already processing the new owner - if she needed anything further and was told no.
One thing bothers me: The exchange of possession of the dog seems very casual.
Medley said ACCT got all the information from the new owner, and he did (eventually) return the dog, somewhat worse for wear, according to Vickie, who said she has paid $175 in vet bills. ACCT waived its usual fees.
Medley said that if Ferraro was uncomfortable with the proceedings, which Ferraro protested, he should have asked for a supervisor.
That puts a burden on the guy who was trying to do the right thing. I'd be happier with a 48-hour hold - no exceptions.