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Sad story of two families and one dog

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Annie's former owner, Chuck Hoage.

Annie is a lucky dog. The 8-year-old Australian shepherd manages to evince love from whichever two-legged critter is looking after her at any given moment.

To Chuck Hoage, who had Annie for seven years, the pooch was “his whole life.”

Her new guardians, who have had Annie for about a month, have grown so close to her that they won’t give her up — even though they now know that Hoage is — or was — her rightful owner.

As my canine-loving compadre and fellow columnist Bill Morem pointed out to me, it is clear that Annie’s new housemates are caring people — otherwise they would not have adopted her in the first place.

Because they are loving people, I think they should give her back to Hoage.

Some context: This is what has happened to Annie and Hoage since June 22.

On that day, Annie was in the back of Hoage’s truck near El Campo Road in the South County and apparently was startled by a noise. Off she ran, Hoage said.

Hoage searched desperately, but he could not find Annie. His greatest fear was that she had wandered over to Highway 101 and been run over. But he scoured the freeway fringes and did not find her there, to his great relief.

The next day, he contacted the county animal shelter. Its hotline listing of found dogs did not include one that fit Annie’s description. He left details about Annie.

The futile quest went on for three weeks, and Hoage was about to give up when, on July 15 — three weeks after Annie went missing — he received a call saying Annie was at the county shelter and to come pick her up.

The next day, he arrived, only to be told that Annie had been adopted out.

How this happened is not clear.

According to Eric Anderson, animal services manager for the San Luis Obispo County Health Agency, Annie did not come to the shelter’s attention until more than a week after she ran way from Hoage.

A Santa Maria resident found Annie on Highway 101 on June 23, kept her for a week, and called the San Luis Obispo County shelter June 30. Annie began showing up on the county hotline at that point. The Santa Maria people who found her brought her in July 2, and the shelter adopted her out July 9.

Why someone called Hogue six days later is unclear, as are many of the details surrounding this episode. There’s a lot of he said/she said, and more than a dollop of poor communication and inadequate noticing practices by the shelter.

I’ll leave it to Anderson and others to sort all that out. I think the more immediate concerns are Annie and Hoage.

Hoage’s co-workers at Central Coast Pathology say Annie is “his life.” They know the dog because he sometimes brings her in.

Anderson is aware of how important Annie is to Hoage.

He said he had his staff “contact the new adopters and advise them we had located an owner for the dog who was quite distraught over losing his pet and was hoping to get it back. However, they already felt bonded and attached to the dog and decided not to give it up,” he wrote The Tribune in an e-mail.

Anderson suggests that other people whose dogs go missing use Hoage’s travails as a cautionary tale.

“I understand that Mr. Hoage is heartbroken over the loss of his pet. What is truly a sad situation for him should also be a reminder for other pet owners to ensure they have taken basic measures to help reunite them with a pet animal, should it become lost.”

Among those measures: a collar with contact information, posting fliers, and familiarity with a series of byzantine procedures about notification and checking that are accessible on the county animal shelter website.

No doubt all that is good advice, and those who love their pets should pay heed.

But I keep coming back to Annie and Hoage. We don’t know who the new owners are or whether they include children; that would make it tougher.

Nonetheless, they have had Annie for what amounts to the blink of an eye in her life. To Hoage, she had been family for seven years.

Annie is not my dog, and I don’t know what I would do in these circumstances. But I have talked to other animal lovers, and I think I would follow their suggestion: Send Annie back to Hoage, and rescue a different pooch from the shelter.

There is no shortage there of dogs looking for love.

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