Dog Gone: Big battle over small schnauzer exposes problem with unregulated rescues

WSVN — Tonight, a battle over a missing small schnauzer exposing a big problem with unregulated pet rescues. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.

Pepper is a miniature schnauzer with the power to escape. When he got out of his Homestead home a few weeks ago, he was not wearing his collar and rabies tag.

Yvette Rispa: "We’ve had him for three years. We love him to pieces and when he left, we were heartbroken."

Yvette Rispa, her husband Alex and their children want their dog back. They learned a neighbor found Pepper inside their gated community and turned him over to a local pet rescue. But when they contacted the woman who runs the rescue, they got bad news. They say they were told Pepper was given to another family.

Alex Rispa: "She had said that she gave him away, that she lost the phone number of the family that claimed him, that she didn’t know, that she was very sorry, that he came up speaking Spanish and she didn’t understand. There was a language barrier. She didn’t understand what they were saying and it looked like the dog knew them so the dog left with them."

Yvette Rispa: "And she offered another dog in replacement and I said, ‘No I don’t want another dog. I want my dog!’"

She is Donna Halpern, founder of Fairy Tails Adoptions which operates out of this house. No one was home, but we caught up with Halpern at a nearby shopping center…

Donna Halpern: "How did you track me?" 

Halpern didn’t want to talk on camera, but she did tell us by phone that the family who now has Pepper did have pictures of a dog that looked like him.

Alex Rispa: "I would think if you run a shelter, you would have to keep some sort of records of who you give an animal to."

But there is no regulation of pet rescues and each is free to set up its own business practices.   

Mary Goss, Friends Forever Rescue: "Hi lovey lovey."

Mary Goss is a volunteer with an unrelated rescue group. She says rescues should ask for proof of ownership before releasing a dog.   

Mary Goss: "There should have been some kind of information exchange– drivers license. If it was their dog, they should have had vet records, they should have had rabies certificate information… they should have had something."

Meanwhile, the Rispa family is hoping a $600 reward will encourage the people who have Pepper to return him.

Yvette Rispa: "I want him home and I’m not gonna stop looking for him until he’s home."

Carmel Cafiero, 7News.

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