FRANKLIN, Maine — Last fall, the Warren family had two golden retrievers, Bella and Jake, that were considered integral members of a household which includes four young children.
Now the dogs have been placed with a new owner somewhere in New England after they took off from the Warrens’ yard in early November and failed to return.
The family made an effort to find the dogs, which they had licensed with the town, by posting information on Facebook, asking some of their neighbors on Taunton Drive and checking the websites of the Ark Animal Shelter and the SPCA in Trenton. In late November, they called the Small Animal Clinic in Ellsworth to find out if anyone had brought the dogs in and were told no one had. The family left their phone number in case anyone did.
But according to the Warrens, two days after their dogs ran out the door and went missing, a local animal control officer found them about two miles away and took them to the same Ellsworth clinic. From there, about a week later, they were taken to Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue in Hudson, Mass., which placed the dogs with a new family somewhere in New England. By the time the Warrens called the Ellsworth clinic, it was nearly two weeks after the dogs had been taken to Massachusetts.
The Warrens want to know where Bella and Jake are and want them returned. They have been told, however, that nothing can be done and that they will not get their dogs back.
“My kids are devastated,” Billie Jo Warren said Monday. “It was almost better not knowing what happened.”
Before they found out their dogs had been taken to Massachusetts, Warren said, they had come to believe the golden retrievers must have been shot and killed by a hunter. They recently saw in the Franklin town report that two golden retrievers on the loose had been picked up in Franklin in August 2011. The date was too early to have involved their dogs, but they talked to Animal Control Officer Marie Zwicker anyway and found out she had picked up two golden retrievers in Sullivan a few days after theirs ran off.
The dogs are both 9 years old, Warren said. They had Bella since she was a puppy and Jake since he was 5 years old. The dogs frequently accompanied the Warrens on outings such as hikes up nearby Schoodic Mountain and on all-terrain vehicle rides.
“Our dogs went everywhere with us. They were like our kids,” she said. “I just want to get my dogs back.”
The family said they previously had dealt with another animal control officer in Franklin, Sharon Raybourn, when another dog attacked their pigs a couple of years ago. Raybourn knows Bella and Jake, they said, and would have called them if she had picked up the dogs.
They said they did not know that Franklin had another animal control officer until they learned Zwicker was the one who picked up their dogs and took them to Ellsworth. Zwicker also is the animal control officer for the towns of Hancock, Sorrento, Sullivan and Trenton.
Warren and her husband, Roy Warren, said that Zwicker could have done more to find out who owned the two dogs. They said Monday that Franklin’s town clerk, Robert Fernald, keeps records on licensed dogs at his home. Had Zwicker checked with Fernald, she would have found that the Warrens were the owner of two golden retrievers whose appearance matched those of the dogs Zwicker had taken to the Ellsworth clinic.
“All she had to do was make a phone call,” Roy Warren said in the kitchen of the family home on Scallop Lane, which is located just a few hundred yards from the University of Maine aquaculture research facility on Taunton Bay.
On Monday night, the Warrens went to a Franklin selectmen’s meeting to discuss their concerns with local officials.
A few hours before the meeting the Warrens found out that Zwicker had picked up the dogs over the town line in Sullivan, near Track Road in Sullivan. Because Zwicker picked up the dogs in Sullivan, she was acting as that town’s animal control officer, not Franklin’s, selectmen told the Warrens.
Jeff Albee, with the support of fellow Selectman Shane Wallace, told the Warrens they would have to raise the matter with Sullivan officials. Franklin First Selectman Ian Staub was not at the meeting.
“That’s all we can do, I guess,” Albee told the couple.
Albee said after the meeting that he feels for the Warrens but he doesn’t think anyone did anything wrong.
“I don’t think there’s anything anyone can do,” Albee said.
Outside the Franklin town office, Zwicker acknowledged Monday evening that she did not make any inquiries, either in Franklin or in Sullivan, to try to find out who owned the dogs when she picked them up. The Warrens said they kept collars and identification tags on Bella and Jake, but Zwicker said when they were found Nov. 4 only one had a collar on and neither had ID tags or other identifying markers such as microchips or tattoos.
Zwicker said the way she dealt with the situation followed the letter of the law. If ownership of the dogs is known, she can take them back to their owners or to a clinic. If ownership of the dogs is not known and no one claims the dogs from the clinic within six days, the clinic then can claim ownership of the animals and dispose of them humanely, either through euthanasia or by giving them to another animal assistance agency.
Determining ownership of an animal often is difficult, if possible at all, when it does not have any specific identifying tags, tattoos or microchips, according to the animal control officer.
Zwicker said she can understand why the Warrens are upset at losing their pets but she cannot understand why they did not call the Small Animal Clinic sooner or why they did not call her at all.
“Everybody knows if they’re missing an animal they should call the animal control officer immediately and they should call the Small Animal Clinic,” Zwicker said. “Why would they wait?”
Zwicker said she checked who in Sullivan has licensed golden retrievers and found 10 names on the list. She did not call any of the names on Sullivan’s licensed dog owner list, which she said would have been too labor intensive, nor did she ask around the neighborhood where the dogs were found.
“If I have no idea who the dog belongs to,” Zwicker said, leaving the sentence unfinished as she shrugged.
She said it did not occur to her to check with the town of Franklin because the dogs were nearly two miles from the Franklin-Sullivan line. If she had called another town, it would have been Hancock because the Route 1 bridge that connects Sullivan and Hancock is not far from where she picked up the dogs, she said.
When asked what she would have done if she picked up the dogs in Franklin, where Bella and Jake were licensed, but then found a list of 10 golden retrievers there, Zwicker declined to speculate.
“It was a good judgment call at the time,” she said of taking the dogs to the Ellsworth clinic. “I followed the law. I try to do the best that I can for the animals.”
Sue Averill, kennel manager for Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue, said Monday that the dogs in question did not have microchips, tattoos or other identifying marks or tags on them when they were found. The dogs had not been neutered or spayed before arriving at the kennel in Massachusetts, she said.
Averill said Bella and Jake went unclaimed while they were held for 10 days at the animal clinic in Ellsworth before they were brought to Hudson, Mass.
If there is a question about whether the situation was handled properly by the animal control officer before the rescue group received the dogs, she said, that has to be sorted out between the Warrens and the town.
“If the dog is unclaimed, it becomes property of the town,” Averill said. “We take it at face value that they did their due diligence [before turning the dogs over to the rescue group].”
Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue will not divulge the name of the dogs’ new owner or where they live because of its confidentiality policy, she said.
Averill declined to comment about exactly when the dogs were placed with their new owner. She said that typically dogs that are spayed and neutered by the rescue group — as Bella and Jake were — are kept at the group’s kennel for two weeks before they are placed with new owners.
If the two dogs were picked up on Nov. 4, held at the Small Animal Clinic for approximately a week, and then held at the Hudson, Mass., kennel for two more weeks, Billie Jo Warren said it is possible they had not yet been placed with their new owner when she called the Small Animal Clinic on Nov. 23 to ask if anyone had brought in her dogs.
Attempts Tuesday to contact officials at Small Animal Clinic were unsuccessful.
The Warrens said they think their best hope for getting the dogs back is if the new owner reads about their plight and contacts them.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.