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A Lusby woman recently returned from a monthlong family vacation to find an important member of the family missing.

Sandy, an 8-year-old Pekingese terrier mix, ran away from home two weeks before Tina Haw, 32, came back from a vacation visiting family in Missouri, from June 25 to July 25, with her four children.

Sandy was left with Haw’s husband, Len, who was unable to go on the trip because of work. At about 4:30 a.m. July 9, Len Haw let Sandy and the family’s other dog, Nibbles, a rat terrier, outside to do their business before he left for work about 5 a.m. Tina said her husband does this every day, and both dogs always have returned home within a few minutes. However, this time Sandy did not return.

Tina said when Len returned home from work that evening, he went out looking for her but to no avail. He repeated that process a few other times, driving around looking for Sandy but did not think about calling or visiting any of the local shelters to see if she had been picked up. Sandy was not microchipped, so had she been turned in to a shelter, the shelter would not have known who the owner was. Len also did not tell Tina while she was away that Sandy was missing because, Tina said, he did not want to worry her.

When Tina Haw came home and learned Sandy had been missing, she went on a campaign of calling and visiting local shelters, emailing county commissioners and media outlets and forming a Facebook group titled “Sandy Wemissyou,” which has received support from more than 619 people — and then she found out Sandy ended up in another family’s possession.

After calling the Tri-County Animal Shelter in Hughesville, Tina learned Sandy was adopted by another family four days before Tina came home.

A small dog very similar to Sandy was brought to the shelter July 11, and a pending adoption contract was placed on her the following day, said Crystal Hunt, public information officer for Charles County government and the shelter. Sandy was dropped off at the shelter after she was picked up along Athlone Drive in Great Mills by St. Mary’s County Animal Control.

Sandy was then seen by a veterinarian, as part of the shelter’s standard practice for every adopted animal, and the adoption was finalized July 21. When Tina visited the shelter July 28, she learned Sandy had been adopted, but the family’s information is not public information.

Donna Fuqua, public information specialist for Charles County government and the shelter, said in an email, “standard practice is not to call new owners on a regular basis asking them to give pets back as this could hurt the adoption of future animals.”

Tina was told the chief of Animal Control, Edward Tucker, called the family on her behalf, but the family was not willing to return Sandy.

Hunt said a picture of Sandy was placed on the stray dog page on the Tri-County Animal Shelter website until Sandy’s adoption was finalized.

Hunt said state law requires a 72-hour hold for stray domestic animals and the Tri-County Animal Shelter adds an additional 48 hours onto that. Hunt said Sandy was at the shelter five days longer than the required amount of stay before the adoption was finalized.

“The adopted family is now the legal owner and not required to return the dog,” Hunt said.

Fuqua said stray animals may be identified and reclaimed up until the animal leaves the shelter, but because the shelter practices euthanasia, animals who stay past the mandatory hold time, five days, may be euthanized at the shelter, depending on the population level, available rescue and the dog’s temperament, age and health, Fuqua said.

“Some may be with us a month or more, and some may be euthanized after mandatory hold times,” Fuqua said.

Despite the heartbreak Tina and her family are enduring after losing a family pet they have had for eight years, Tina still has unanswered questions, such as if the adoptive family fully knows about Sandy’s situation, why they are unwilling to return her and how Sandy got to St. Mary’s County from Lusby.

“I have no idea how she got over there. It makes me wonder, did somebody pick her up and take her over there?” Tina said of learning her dog was found in a county only accessible by bridge or swimming.

After the story was picked up by Fox 5 News last week, Tina received more support from friends and neighbors, but no more answers as to the dog’s disappearance.

“She means a lot to me,” Tina said of Sandy. “I took care of her like she was one of my children. … Sandy is part of our family, and we love her very much.”

Tina hopes the adoptive family will see Sandy’s story somehow and decide to return her.

“If they were willing to give her back to us, we would find another dog to be a part of their family, and I would pay all costs if they would be willing to give us our family member back.”

snewman@somdnews.com