COLLIER COUNTY — Barbara Dunshee loves caring for her animals.
Keeping them at home seems to be a little more difficult.
Weeks after winning the right to take home a golden retriever who had been turned over to Collier County Domestic Animal Services by a breeder who was evicted from his home, the 4-year-old dog — Willie — is missing. It has also come to light that prior to Willie’s adoption, Dunshee had been barred from adopting anymore dogs from DAS.
“I just want people to know that we love animals,” Dunshee said. “We would never harm an animal.”
When Dunshee learned that DAS was holding a lottery for 11 of the 49 dogs surrendered by breeder Arthur Perkins last month, she filed an application with DAS and was approved.
It was only after she won Willie during the July 30 lottery that DAS realized Dunshee had a flag on her account.
“Barbara Dunshee has returned four animals that she has adopted from (DAS),” her account read. “Do not adopt to Barbara Dunshee.”
Now, Willie is missing. He’s been gone for a week, and he didn’t even make it home from the shelter, said Dunshee, who lives in Golden Gate Estates.
“My husband went to pick him up (a week after the lottery) and something horrible happened,” Dunshee said. “He was not the same dog I saw at the event.”
She said Willie was skittish, “really freaked out,” and had an ear infection. Dunshee said Willie, who is heartworm positive, had to be coaxed out of his crate with food. When he did come out, his tail was between his legs, and he hid under anything he could find.
When Dunshee’s husband, Scott, brought Willie home, the dog struggled with him, wiggled out of his collar, and ran off. The Dunshees searched for Willie for 8 hours that night, Barbara Dunshee said.
Now, after a week without treatment, Barbara Dunshee fears Willie could be dead. She and other concerned animal advocates hope that someone has found him.
“I think it’s zero, absolutely zero” Chuck Danielian, who is involved with a dog rescue groups in Naples, said of the chances that someone found Willie and took him in. “But, I hope that he’s with a family.”
Amanda Townsend, director of DAS, said Dunshee was permitted to keep Willie, despite the flag on her account, because a staff member who approved her application made an error.
“Because the error was ours, we decided to honor the adoption,” Townsend said.
The staff member, who Townsend would not name, has since been “counseled,” Townsend said. Townsend also said that Dunshee is now aware that she has a “do not adopt” flag on her account.
Perkins surrendered the dogs after his home was foreclosed on in July. Having adopted two golden retrievers from Perkins over the last six months, Dunshee said his dogs are the best.
“The place was always clean and nice over there,” Dunshee said. “When we heard about Perkins, the first thing we said was ‘My God, if we knew, we would have helped him.’”
However, according to stacks of DAS complaints on Perkins’ dogs dating back to 2005, his dogs were thin, covered with fleas and had various infections. According to one complaint, a puppy died from parvovirus, a contagious virus that dogs are required to be vaccinated against.
Though many concerned citizens have been sending emails to Dunshee and Townsend about the mistake, Dunshee was not flagged by DAS because of any abuse. Instead, she was flagged because she often turns in strays to DAS, and has in the past returned dogs because of an inability to continue caring for them, citing health reasons, among others.
The Dunshees have four other dogs besides Willie — two of which came from Perkins. The family lives on seven acres, and also has horses, goats and other farm animals.
Dunshee also has an account with the Naples Humane Society and is not on its “do not adopt” list, Executive Director Michael Simonik said.
Animal advocates have been banding together all week to put up fliers near the Dunshees’ home, near 32nd Avenue Southeast and Everglades Boulevard, just west of Perkins’ former home on Kearney Avenue.
Since they are close to Willie’s former home, the Dunshees and Danielian believe Willie may have tried to go back to the now foreclosed residence.
Willie was last seen near 34th Avenue Southeast and Everglades Boulevard in Golden Gate Estates.
The Dunshees are offering a $500 reward to anyone who can find Willie. Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call (239) 919-0751.