Family wants therapy dog returned to autistic boy

Delilah was the therapy dog for Zack, who suffers from autism. Family photo
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Brandon, FL – Michele Carlisle is doing the best she can, but the past eight months have been difficult.  She hasn’t found a way to help her eight-year-old son, Zack, understand that his dog is living with another family.

“He lost his best friend.  He doesn’t understand and he asks me for her all the time,” explained Carlisle.

Zack has autism, social anxiety disorder and suffers from seizures.  His dog, Delilah, was special.  The Weimaraner was trained to detect seizures.

“She would pace and would go crazy and start making noises and circling him and I knew that Zack was in trouble.  They had this bond almost like she was his mom,” Carlisle said.

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In August, the single mother and her three boys moved from a small town in Alabama to Brandon.  Within days of moving into their new place, Delilah got out.

“She took off running.  She just kept running and I tried to get the kids loaded up to find her and we drove around, but she was just gone.  It wasn't that she got out because I was neglectful,” she said.

Carlisle and her three boys went to the closest shelter.  They went every weekend.  They posted flyers.  They could not find Delilah.  Days went by and then weeks and there was still no Delilah. 

A Facebook friend told Carlisle to check the animal lost and found pages on social media and Hillsborough County and the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.  It was on the Humane Society’s page where Carlisle spotted Delilah.  She recognized the way she was standing, the discoloration in her hair, the look in her eye and her collar. 

“I get so excited.  I'm like, ‘Oh my gosh!  She's there!' ”

Someone found Delilah on Tyson Avenue at Dale Mabry Highway and had turned her in to the Humane Society of Tampa Bay on Aug.11.  According to the Humane Society, Delilah did not have tags and was not microchipped.

“I'm panicking.  At this point my heart is racing.  I'm like, ‘OK.  She’s there,’ and I go to call them up and they're like, ‘Oh.  She's been adopted out,” said Carlisle.

According to the Humane Society, Delilah was placed with a new family on Aug. 15.  They say Carlisle did not call them until November. 

Carlisle explained Zack’s bond with Delilah and the specialized training that Delilah has to detect his seizures.  The Humane Society reached out to the new owners on her behalf, but the new owners did not want to give back the dog.  They, too, had formed a bond with their new dog.

“Imagine if they build that bond over four months what it meant to him over all these years, since he was a baby,” she said.

After six years, Delilah was no longer their dog and according to the Humane Society that is the law.

“If a dog has no identification then it's not legally their property after three days.  That's what the county has put into play,” said Dr. Nicole Cornett, the veterinarian for the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.

Representatives with the Humane Society say this is a tough situation and they’ve never dealt with something like this before.

They explained how the wait period works for animals that are surrendered to them.  They say if a dog has tags or is microchipped they do everything they can to find the owners.  They wait at least 10 days before placing those dogs up for adoption. 

“We ideally want them to go to the home that they came from, but if we can't find that home we're lucky enough to find another home, someone who will love them and take care of them,” said Cornett.

In the Carlisle home there is plenty of love and a big piece of Zack’s world missing.  Michele says if she could just talk to the new owner, mother to mother, she thinks they would understand.

“I just want them to be reunited, even one time.  I think if she saw the bond between Delilah and Zack she would change her mind.”

The Humane Society of Tampa Bay does offer free microchip clinics.  They also microchip throughout the year and it costs $15.  They say that is the best way to keep your pet safe.

We spoke with Barry Cohen, a local attorney, about the Carlisles' rights as dog owners.  He questioned the county’s ordinance and stray wait period.  He’s agreed to work with Michele and her boys to try and find resolution.