Portia Miller adopted her beloved Shih Tzu Mercutio in 2007, following the murder of a close friend. When the dog was stolen from her St. Paul home in April 2013, she reported him missing to police and microchip company PetKey. Two years went by without a word. She thought he was gone for good.
Last Friday, Minneapolis Animal Control called. Officer Heather Vocke told Miller that Mercutio had suddenly turned up as a stray, and since he was registered to her via his microchip, all she needed to do was bring an ID to pick him up. Miller was ecstatic.
She went to Animal Control, but there she was told she couldn't take him home because other people had laid claim -- a family that adopted him sometime in the two years after she'd lost him. Shortly after, Animal Control awarded Mercutio to that family.
Miller was left wondering why she could not have her dog back even though she had adopted, registered, and microchipped him first. She called and emailed Animal Control asking the agency to explain how it determined custody. Animal Control stopped communicating with her.
Casper Hill, a city of Minneapolis spokesman, told City Pages that after Miller lost Mercutio, the dog turned up at the St. Paul Humane Society. The Humane Society kept Mercutio for five days, at which point the shelter put him up for adoption.
"Consulting with the City Attorney's Office, it was concluded that any dispute over the present ownership of the dog is a private legal matter," Hill says. "After a dog is in a shelter unclaimed for five days, the shelter has the legal right to dispose of that dog, which the St. Paul shelter decided to do through a pet adoption. From this, it was concluded that the owner who adopted the dog from the St. Paul shelter had the most current legal claim to the dog, and that the dog would be released to the custody of the most recent lawful owner."
But here's the sticking point. The St. Paul Humane Society never informed her when Mercutio was found the first time, Miller says.
"I had no idea. If I had been told where he was, I would have came and gotten him," she says. "The first time I heard that it was him, that he had been found somewhere, was when [Minneapolis] Animal Control called me last week."
The St. Paul Humane Society confirmed that Miller was never called.
However, it was an honest mistake that stemmed from a major flaw in the microchip industry, says spokesman Paul Sorenson.
There are at least 20 major microchip databases out there that keep pet registries. They're affiliated with different microchip manufacturers, but these databases don't communicate with each other. There's no master list, Sorenson says.
When Mercutio landed at St. Paul Humane Society, workers scanned his microchip and found his first owner, a woman preceding Miller who insisted she no longer wanted the dog. "In general, when we find an owner, that's the owner. At that point I think it was logical to assume that there was not another owner out there," Sorenson says.
"It's a huge flaw in the system and it's unfortunately one that isn't common enough that it gets a lot of attention. But when it happens, it's heartbreaking," he says. Sorenson has a cat and a dog, so he says he can sympathize with the emotional rollercoaster Miller is going through of losing her pet, finding out he's out there somewhere, but then being told she can't bring him home.
Miller hasn't decided yet whether she will retain an attorney. "This is an effort to take any steps, whether political or legal, to raise awareness on microchip mishaps as well as negligence, and to bring Mercutio back home to me," she posted on her Bring Mercutio Home Facebook page.
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