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From pet, to stray, to pet again

Gema Nunez, left, and her daughters Giselle, 14, and Lisette, 10, were reunited with their dog Sammy, who was lost for nearly two weeks.

JAKE MAY | Times

Gema Nunez, left, and her daughters Giselle, 14, and Lisette, 10, were reunited with their dog Sammy, who was lost for nearly two weeks.

Tears. No Sammy.

Countless missing dog fliers, but still no Sammy.

Gema Nunez made phone calls and nightly searches for the excitable, 2-year-old golden retriever she and her two daughters have grown to love and consider a member of the family.

A week passed. No Tampa shelters or neighbors had word of his whereabouts, and the family eventually gave up hope of finding its dog.

"I was so upset. The girls, they were just so sad," Nunez said. "I didn't even know what to do. We looked everywhere. We gave up. I felt horrible."

Sammy has a microchip ID. Problem is, the information on it was not updated to his owner's current address, which separated the family and dog for nearly two weeks.

Microchips act as permanent identification that can be scanned by veterinarian offices or animal shelters for information about the pet's owner.

Sammy's story begins with Nunez's family vacation in early June. They left their dog in the hands of their neighbors, Lora and David Hernandez, before leaving for a weeklong trip to Orlando.

At about 2 p.m. on June 9, David Hernandez let the dog out to run around and "do his business." When he went to let Sammy in at 2:30 p.m., the dog was nowhere to be found.

Sammy roamed the streets for three days. His tag had broken from his leash.

There is no telling how he made it from the Tampa back yard to downtown St. Petersburg, but that's where the shaggy fellow was picked up by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on June 12. He was taken to Largo, where a search for the dog's owner began.

Lost and found coordinator Melissa Snyder used Sammy's microchip to try to locate Nunez, but the information was outdated. Instead the chip led to a closed Petland store in Tampa, where the dog was purchased.

"People don't think about the fact that the microchip doesn't update itself when you move," said Marissa Segundo, SPCA Tampa Bay public relations manager. "When we can't locate an owner, we pretty much have to treat (a pet) like a stray and put it up for adoption."

With no luck on the first few attempts to find Nunez, Sammy was put up for adoption, but Snyder didn't give up.

After calls to other Petland stores around the area, a connection was made. The Largo Petland had access to Sammy's records and was able to reunite dog and family.

"Oh, my God. It was amazing," Nunez said. "I was at work when I got the call. I started jumping up and down and screaming, I was so happy."

As the family sat in the living room of their Tampa home Friday, a television set blared the sounds of other dogs barking. The family was watching Cesar Millan on National Geographic's Dog Whisperer.

Nunez said she is making an effort to be a better owner.

"We're already brushing up on how to be better in touch with Sammy," Nunez said.

"I would never want anyone else to go through this. We haven't updated our microchip yet, but we are keeping a close eye as we let Sammy out. ... I will get online soon and register his new information."

To update a pet's microchip, owners must contact the microchip company, such as 24PetWatch, by phone or through Web sites.

If owners do not know under which company their pet's microchip is registered, contact a local veterinarian or animal shelter. Either is able to scan the pet's microchip and access the name of the company that supplied it.

From pet, to stray, to pet again 07/01/08 [Last modified: Monday, July 7, 2008 5:09pm]
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