Dog missing from backyard found with woman associated with animal rescue

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WESTMINSTER, Colo. --  What started as a search for a lost dog turned into a dog-napping investigation, and it ended with the happy hound back home with her family.

But there are lingering questions about what happened to Pepper while she was gone for two months. The Westminster Police Department said it is still investigating what seems like a strange set of circumstances.

In March, an unidentified woman brought the dog into an Englewood animal hospital where a microchip revealed she had a family. But then that same woman left with her.

Thanks to police work and a viewer tip, officers tracked down Pepper to an unlikely place.

"Receiving the phone call, I was just so excited, thinking, ‘We definitely got her back," said Pepper’s owner, Dominique Naylor.

Police told Naylor they found the woman who took Pepper from VRCC. But that woman told police that Pepper jumped out of her car while she was getting gas and and escaped.

It sounded far-fetched.

"When we continued to look at (the suspect) through social media sites, we found she was associated with a rescue in Wellington," police Det. Cheri Spottke said.

Animal Debt Project posted Pepper's picture on its website days later as an adoptable dog.

"It was a rescue as far as I knew. And the minute I found out it was potentially a stolen dog, within an hour, the dog was returned," said Edie Messick, the rescue’s owner.

She returned the dog to police, who then learned Pepper's microchip had been removed, replaced and removed again by Tabby Road Animal Hospital.

"You don't need to remove a microchip from an animal once it is implanted. You just reregister the information. So for them to remove not one, but two microchips, leads us to believe something is going on," Spottke said.

"She had three cuts to her back. They were stitched up," Naylor said.

She says she doesn't get why people who pledge to help animals would hurt hers.

"I don't understand why anyone would do that when a family is looking to get her back just the way she is," Naylor said.

Veterinarian Chad Zadina at Tabby Road Animal Hospital in Wellington said he would never knowingly do anything dishonest or anything to jeopardize his practice.

He said Animal Debt Project is an upstanding organization that saves the lives of thousands of unwanted animals -- and never bats an eye to pay for expensive surgeries and treatments.

Messick said she believes the woman who took Pepper did so for good reason.

“This person would not have some something if she didn’t think the dog was in danger. Period. End of story,” she said.

That woman is still under investigation by police for theft.