A family dog typically is more than just an animal to its owners.
For the Brad and Jane Wiens family of rural Hillsboro, Lacey, their golden retriever, was a companion, a protector, and a connection to the family’s experiences.
The 7-year-old dog lived outdoors, playing with the family’s other dog, Skipper, and accompanying the family during chores including trips to fields farmed by the family near Walton.
Lacey was Sheldon Wiens’ pride and joy. Sheldon has autism and the dog brought comfort and connection to the 17-year-old.
“The dog would swim in the pond while Sheldon and Brad would be in the kayak,” Jane Wiens said Friday. “Brad and Sheldon would take Lacey with them when they went out in the pickup.”
The role of a farm dog is different from a city dog — there are no fences or boundaries. Farm dogs may disappear for a day or two — some return home, some do not.
It was unusual for Lacey to be gone overnight and Wiens said she was worried when the dog was gone for a few days in September.
When the days turned into week, efforts mounted to find the dog — the family’s veterinarian was called, neighbors were contacted, and ads were placed in local newspapers — but no one had seen or reported the missing dog.
Strays are common in Wiens’ neighborhood and she thought maybe someone had taken in Lacey.
She doesn’t know exactly why she did but in October she decided to call Caring Hands Humane Society in Newton. The animal shelter houses dogs that are picked up by area law enforcement agencies.
When Wiens initially contacted them Oct. 19, she was told a golden retriever was picked up in Newton.
“I didn’t pay much attention to it because I didn’t think it was Lacey,” Wiens said, judging from the description of the dog and the location it was found.
She decided to call again the next day and was told the dog was actually picked up on 170th and Goldenrod roads, near Walton.
“We farm property on 170th and Falcon,” Wiens said and she thought it probably was their dog.
According to Caring Hands Executive Director Kevin Stubbs, a golden retriever was brought in Sept. 20.
The state requires shelters to hold an animal for three working days before determining its fate. After those three days, if no owner comes forward to claim the pet, the animal becomes the sole responsibility of the humane society.
At that point, the animal can be adopted by another family or sometimes, as in this particular case, it can be sent to another shelter.
On Sept. 25, the dog was shipped to a clinic in Hays and treated for heartworm. When she became strong enough to travel, she was transported to Freedom Rescue in Denver, which specializes in caring for golden retrievers.
Caring Hands told Wiens that the dog that was picked up had Stage 3 heartworm, a bladder infection, and an ear infection. Wiens believes that when the humane society received the dog, Lacey had been on the go for 12 to 15 days and had lost 10 pounds.
“When she left here, she was healthy,” Wiens said.
Lacey received a thorough examination April 10 at Hillsboro Animal Clinic and was treated for an infection at that time. She was not checked for heartworms but was in good health.
The perception of the animal shelter was the dog had been neglected, Wiens said.
“She had lost weight and looked terrible I’m sure because she had been on the run for a while,” Wiens said.
Relief that her dog had been located turned to anger when Freedom Rescue told Wiens she would not be able to recover her dog because of the alleged neglect.
“Heartworm has no symptoms,” Wiens said. “It’s not a requirement to have dogs tested for heartworms. If we didn’t think she was sick, there would be no reason to test her.”
Stubbs said typically, when dogs are turned over to the shelter, they are spayed or neutered. In Lacey’s case, she wasn’t, he said, because she had heartworms.
When the three days passed, the shelter could have euthanized Lacey but decided to send her to the animal refuge in Colorado, essentially saving her life.
“When Lacey was gone for such a long time, I knew there was a chance that something had happened to her,” Wiens said, “but when I found out she was alive, I became determined to get her back.”
However, it wasn’t that simple.
Laura Zang, a board member with Freedom Rescue, said her organization isn’t sure this dog belongs to the Wiens.
“This dog that we have has gray in the face,” Zang said. “From the photos, their dog is red. It doesn’t look the same to us.”
Wiens is convinced this is the family dog and had called the rescue organization to ask the process to retrieve her dog.
“I was told I couldn’t get my dog back,” Wiens said, “and that there was a zero percent chance of ever getting her.”
Because the dog had heartworm, it was determined that if the dog did belong to the Wienses, she had not been properly cared for and therefore the Wienses were not qualified to “adopt” her.
“I would be willing to pay $1,000 to get her back,” Wiens said.
For the past three weeks, Wiens has been sending e-mails with photos of Lacey to get the word out about her dilemma.
“This is concerning to me because they (Freedom Rescue) rescue dogs but they have no compassion for dogs’ families,” Wiens said. “I have been appalled that they are so insensitive to my situation of not being willing to reunite Lacey with her family.”
The most recent conversations with a member of the rescue group gave Wiens renewed hope. Wiens said she agreed to have a microchip implanted in Lacey’s ear for identification purposes, have Lacey neutered, and would be willing to educate the public about heartworms. She also agreed to have a fenced area for Lacey to stay in while the family is away from the home.
In a second conversation, Wiens said she was told she would not be able to recover the dog because the dog would not be housed indoors.
“This is a farm dog,” Wiens said. “She wouldn’t be happy being penned.”
Since Wiens couldn’t meet all of the demands, the dog will not be returned to the Hillsboro family.
“I’m surprised Freedom Rescue doesn’t make exceptions because organizations do all of the time,” Wiens said. “By not considering placing Lacey back in a rural setting, it can cause undue stress for the dog. The organization shouldn’t be creating stress for the dogs.”
Time is running out for the Wiens family in recovering their dog. The photo of a dog that Wiens is sure is Lacey, now called “Lucielle 237-10,” was posted on the Freedom Rescue website at http://www.goldenretrieverfreedom.com as being available for adoption. Since Wiens’ contact with the organization, the dog’s photo has been removed from the site, leading Wiens to believe the dog is in foster care and being prepared for adoption.
Zang is sympathetic to the Wienses but is concerned about future adoptions.
“Typically the whereabouts of a dog, after it leaves a shelter, is not known,” Zang said. “People need to be assured of anonymity when they adopt a dog from a shelter or a rescue agency.”
Recovering Lacey is important for Sheldon’s sake. Diagnosed with autism at age 3, Sheldon has been working with a consultant in addition to taking some special education classes at Hillsboro High School.
“It’s a type of ongoing relationship development intervention,” Wiens said. “Our goal is to create a dynamic child.”
To explain Sheldon’s difficulty in understanding relationships, Wiens said Sheldon and others who suffer from this form of autism, commonly known as Asperger’s Syndrome, may hear a conversation and take a word out of context.
“He may think of a scenario with the word and then reacts,” Wiens said.
Sheldon is independent, able to drive, and is an accomplished pianist.
“He has perfect pitch,” Wiens said. “Another goal is for him to live independently after high school.”
Lacey was a Christmas present for Sheldon seven years ago, and has been a calming companion.
The Wienses also have two daughters — Natalie, 20, and Brooklyn, 11.
So now, Wiens is sharing her story, seeking all of the help she can find to bring the family dog home.
“Some may say, ‘It’s just a dog.’ For me and my family, it’s our experience and it’s important to us,” Wiens said.
“I’m not giving up. I’m going to keep after it. It feels like an injustice,” she said.