A Manitoba woman is pleading with the person who adopted her missing dog from the City of Winnipeg's animal shelter to return the pet to her family.
Lela Harris said her two-year-old German shepherd-Rottweiler cross, Maverick, went missing on March 24. He had been outside his rural home near Lundar and usually greeted Harris's children as they got off the bus from school.
"We put his food out for him and he didn't come when we called him. We didn't think anything of it — he might have been in the back field and we waited for him to come home," said Harris. "And he never came."
Harris's three-year-old daughter Zendaya calls out for Maverick every time she goes outside and every night before bed. The two shared a special bond, Harris said, adding Maverick was Zendaya's guardian and she his trainer.
His absence now gives her nightmares.
"She would wake up crying asking for him. Now when we go out to play in the yard like these past few days, she's looking for him. She still has his food dish. She's waiting for him," said Harris.
For days, the family drove around looking for Maverick and calling his name. He had been wearing a collar with tags when he disappeared but did not have a tattoo or microchip. Last week, Harris wrote a post on Facebook about how much her family missed the dog.
A stranger commented with a link to a dog that looked just like Maverick on the Winnipeg Animal Services website. Harris said she never thought of looking in the city because Winnipeg is more than 100 kilometres away.
"Knowing in my heart this was my dog, I was overjoyed," she said.
"This is him. I found Mavi," she remembers telling her husband and older children Tuesday night.
Animal Services was closed at the time, so Harris called the City of Winnipeg's 311 information line and was told to check the next day during normal business hours to identify and pick up Maverick.
On Wednesday, Harris and her daughter drove in from Lundar with Maverick's food dish.
"Bogart. I'm here for Bogart," Harris said she told the clerk there, using the new name Maverick had been given by Animal Services. "That's my dog Maverick."
That's when the clerk "just put her head down and said, 'I'm going for my supervisor,'" Harris said.
The shelter supervisor came out and told her the dog had been adopted.
"It's heartbreaking ... knowing someone is bonding with my dog and knowing the bond we have with him," said Harris, through tears.
The supervisor told her Animal Services has a three-day holding period for dogs before they can be adopted out, and she'd come too late.
As Harris tried to contain her tears in front of her child, her daughter saw an image of Maverick on the TV screen overhead; his adoption was so recent it hadn't been removed.
"'Mom, mom, there's my Mavi, are we taking my Mavi home?'" Harris remembers her asking.
"She's pulling on my sweater and I'm trying to deal with the news that my dog's been adopted and there's nothing they can do," said Harris.
"So I just took her out of there before she started crying because she has so much attachment to him. And we just had to leave without him."
A city spokesperson says Maverick was found on April 10 in Winnipeg and taken into the care of Animal Services.
The dog had no licence, tags, microchip or tattoo, according to the spokesperson, and a photo of him was sent to Winnipeg Lost Dog Alerts by Animal Services in hopes of finding the owner.
He was held for three days, then vet checked and placed up for adoption. He was adopted on April 18.
Harris doesn't know where Maverick was between the time he disappeared and then found in Winnipeg.
"It's a horrible nightmare, waking up in the middle of the night because you hear barking, thinking, 'Oh he's home', but meanwhile it's not him," Harris said.
A City of Winnipeg spokesperson said Animal Services advised Maverick's new owner a day after the adoption about the situation, but they have been unable to get the dog returned.
"I would ask that they bring him home. I would ask that they give him back. It's not just us, it's our whole family and there's a little girl that goes to sleep every night asking where's her Mavi," said Harris.
She said she's grateful for Animal Services and the efforts the staff have made since Maverick was picked up as a stray.
Since she posted on Facebook, she's received dozens of messages of support and encouragement from friends and strangers across Canada, which she said she's also thankful for as it keeps her going. Harris said many have asked her why her dog didn't have any identifiers, such as a tattoo.
"Everyone's saying, 'tattoo and chip your dog.' We live in a rural setting, you don't imagine you'll need to. But if he comes back that's the first thing we'll do," she said.
She remembers the day they got Maverick. She had her pick of the litter but he walked up to her and lay down on her feet, so she took him home. Zendaya, who has speech delays, uses words and commands only Maverick understands.
"If she stopped and sat wherever she was playing, he was right there with her. If she wandered too far he would stand in front of her or lay across her path so she couldn't go any further, making sure she was safe," said Harris, wiping tears.
"And that's been the hardest thing. To hear her cry."
She hopes the person who adopted Maverick "has a heart" and returns him.
"Everybody says he's just a dog, but he's not. He's a family member. And he has been since the day he laid across my feet."