When pets disappear in the District, they often end up at the Washington Humane Society’s New York Avenue shelter.
It’s the only congressionally chartered animal welfare agency in the country, with more than 8,500 pets impounded there in the past year -- including a rambunctious 2-year-old shih tzu/French bulldog mix named Zoey.
Zoey ran off one day with a collar and leash still attached, said her owner, Brandi Crawley.
"We put an ad on Craigslist,” Crawley said. “We got a phone call. ‘Oh, I found your dog and I took her to the shelter.’"
When Crawley called, the shelter told her they didn’t have Zoey. After several days of calling and emailing to no avail, Crawley’s boyfriend went to the shelter just to make sure. He found Zoey in a cage in the shelter’s holding area.
"I stuck my hand through the fence and pet Zoey,” he recalls. “I told her everything is going to be OK and that she was coming home soon."
But Zoey didn’t go home.
A shelter employee said only Crawley could claim Zoey since she originally purchased the dog.
Crawley said the shelter “told him they would put an RTO on her, or “Return to Owner,” and that it was fine as long as he was willing to pay the additional $7 a day for boarding."
Crawley, working in New Jersey, couldn’t get back to pick up Zoey until four days later.
"The supervisor says, ‘I have horrible news,’" Crawley said. “I wasn't expecting him to say what he said next. ‘We euthanized her this morning.’”
“This was our mistake that resulted in this tragedy,” Washington Humane Society Chief Operating Officer Stephanie Shain said. "We take full responsibility for what happened. We've spoken with the family and apologized to them, expressed our regret and our sympathies, and we've taken steps to make sure this never happens again."
The shelter said Crawley’s boyfriend should have been allowed to take Zoey home and admits the “Return to Owner” notice was never placed in the dog’s file.
Since Zoey's death, some shelter workers have been disciplined and every employee has received new training, Shain said.
When asked if people should worry if their pet disappears and ends up at the New York Avenue shelter, Shain said, "People should not be afraid. This was an isolated incident and we feel terrible about it."
The shelter would like to buy new computer software that could help match lost pets with owners more efficiently, Shain said, but it's expensive, running about $50,000.
Shelter records analyzed by the News4 I-Team show 7 percent of impounded pets at the New York Avenue location were reunited with families last year. More than half of all pets were euthanized.
Tough statistics for any owner hoping for a happy reunion.
"I just didn't want her to think that we left her,” Crawley said tearfully. “That's the hardest part that she was alone when all this happened."