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Woman pleads for return of her dog

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — She wasn’t going to keep the puppy.

Not forever, anyway.

Shelby Sukunda already had Colby, a terrier-Chihuahua mix, small enough to live comfortably in Sukunda’s small Madrid digs.

But Sukunda had shown up at a friend’s house just as a litter of pit bull pups was coming into this world, and that made her their fairy dogmother, she was told.

The friend gave her the pick of the litter, so how could a fairy dogmother say no to that?

“I took this idea of trying to help find homes for the puppies and I would foster one of them,” she said.

Percy is a brown female pit bull that disappeared Nov. 11. At left is Colby, Percy’s dog buddy. (SOURCE: Shelby Sukunda)

Just in case she ended up falling in love with her foster pup and decided to keep it, Sukunda chose the runt.

“I thought, at least this one will be smaller than the others,” she said.

She named the little brown girl pup with the golden eyes Percy.

And then she fell in love.

They became inseparable, or nearly so.

“She just wants to follow me everywhere,” she said. “I can’t go anywhere without her following me.”

For the most part, that was OK with Sukunda, because she didn’t want to go anywhere without Percy.

This dog, she said, was her forever dog, after all.

“I’m all she knows,” she said of Percy, now 10 months old. “She’s in all my passwords.”

Sukunda, a metal sculptor, found a bigger place to raise Percy, moving to a five-acre spread on La Madera Road in Sandia Park that she shared with her metalworker mentor, his wife and their dogs.

The property was fenced, but Sukunda also installed a wireless electric fence after Percy ran off looking for her in September.

But even an electric fence was no match for a dog that endured the shock just to race to Sukunda’s approaching Jeep, hop in and greet her with slobbery kisses.

And this is where the story goes astray in a way no fairy dogmother has figured out how to fix.

The first big snowfall in the East Mountains this season was on Nov. 11. Sukunda was visiting her father in Madrid when it hit and had to spend the night there, leaving Percy to be cared for by the mentor and his wife.

She tried to make it home the next day, but the roads had yet to be plowed and she had a flight to catch to spend Thanksgiving with her mother in West Virginia. After getting stuck twice in the snow and losing her cellphone in the process, she gave up and headed to the airport.

She didn’t know then that Percy was already missing.

News of her missing pooch finally reached her Nov. 15. Thousands of miles away and with no cellphone, all Sukunda could think to do was post about her missing dog on Facebook and on the East Mountain Pet Alert site and cut her trip short.

The soonest she could get a plane back was Nov. 19, eight days after Percy disappeared.

That day, she found a message, left Nov. 11, on her replacement cellphone about Percy being at the Animal Humane New Mexico shelter in Albuquerque.

She called the shelter immediately. But Percy had already been adopted.

“It all happened so fast,” she said, tearfully. “I broke down, like, please, don’t let this be happening. But they just treated me like a careless owner, like it was just too late.”

Animal Humane marketing director Autumn Gray said the shelter’s policy is to hold strays with microchips or ID tags for seven days, not including the day of intake, which for Percy was Nov. 11. Animals without identification are held for three days. Both are in accordance with city animal welfare laws.

“We always go above and beyond to locate the owner,” Gray said. “Our heart breaks for her for what has happened.”

Percy, Sukunda said, was microchipped and wore two collars – one with a transmitter for the invisible fence, the other a pink camo print with rabies tag and a tag with her name, address and phone number. But Gray said Percy’s microchip listed a disconnected phone number – a claim Sukunda refutes.

The phone number on the dog tag was to the cell phone Sukunda lost, so no one could reach her.

The address on the tag did not include Sandia Park, but Gray said workers pieced together a full address using Google Maps and the cross street where the dog had been picked up, and an emergency letter was mailed there. Sukunda said she never received it.

“It was a perfect storm which lost her dog, not her carelessness,” said Joyce Lewis, who runs the East Mountain Pet Alert. “What is different about this is that this is the worst series of unfortunate events that I have ever been involved in.”

At Sukunda’s pleadings, the new owners were contacted and told about the situation, but Gray said it is their decision as to whether to keep the dog or return her.

Should Percy be returned, Sukunda will be notified immediately, Gray said.

So far, Sukunda has not received that call.

“I just cannot believe that anybody would intentionally tear a dog from her family,” Sukunda said. “Anybody who has had a relationship with a dog knows that the dog becomes like your kid. I just know whoever has my dog would feel differently if they knew her family has been found.”

Percy didn’t start out as Sukunda’s forever dog, but that’s just what she became. No one knew then, though, how short forever can be.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg.