NEW PORT RICHEY — The couple whose lost dog was euthanized by the SPCA Suncoast learned one last difficult fact Friday:
Suzy was still alive when they first came to the shelter looking for her.
The person at the front desk mistakenly told Ricky and Susan Ouellette their 8-year-old Shih Tzu wasn't there. That was at 5:50 p.m. May 22.
The couple left, and about 6:30 p.m., Suzy was euthanized.
"She said it was a human error," Susan said Friday, after meeting with SPCA interim executive director Gail Armstrong about the incident that made headlines earlier this week. "They are looking into how it happened.
"She said they will take care of it and it will not happen again."
It all started the afternoon of May 22, when the Ouellettes let Suzy out in their front yard to go to the bathroom. She had never wandered off before. When they checked on her, she was gone. A neighbor later explained she thought Suzy was a stray and took her to the SPCA.
When the couple got to the nonprofit shelter, they were told their dog was not there. The Ouellettes said they begged to look through the dogs in the shelter, to make sure. They were told "no." The couple asked the employee at the front desk to go back and check. The clerk said she wasn't authorized to do so.
The couple spent the next four days posting fliers of Suzy, checking other shelters, going back to the SPCA four more times to ask about Suzy. Every time, they were told she wasn't there. Then they got a call Tuesday afternoon from Armstrong, saying Suzy had been euthanized because she was sick.
The Ouellettes never disputed their dog was ill: Suzy had lost weight, and their vet had recommended tests the previous week to find out what was wrong. The couple couldn't afford those tests, but they offered Suzy formula to get her eating again.
Susan said her dog put on some weight and seemed to be getting better. The day she died, Suzy jumped on the couch by herself.
But Armstrong told the couple that Suzy seemed like she was in distress, Susan said. And the SPCA says the woman who brought her to the shelter said Suzy had been wandering the neighborhood for days — which wasn't true, the Ouellettes said.
Not in dispute: Suzy didn't have a microchip or a collar.
"I've learned a lot from this experience," Susan said. "I should have had Suzy microchipped. Maybe if she was, this tragedy wouldn't have happened."
Armstrong told the couple the SPCA would help get their other dog — a 13-year-old Chihuahua named Teka — microchipped.
The shelter also is planning a clinic to offer low cost microchips to pets. It is to "honor Suzy's memory," Armstrong said in an interview with the Times Friday evening. A date has not yet been set.
Armstrong said the Ouellettes were told Suzy wasn't there when she was because of a "miscommunication." She declined to discuss details of the error or Suzy's condition, saying she wanted to focus on moving forward.
The SPCA is paying to get Suzy cremated. The Ouellettes will get her ashes.
Susan is considering volunteering for the SPCA as a foster mother for kittens.
"We forgave them," Susan said. "I just want Suzy to rest in peace."
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.