SAN TAN VALLEY, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - A terrible mistake at Pinal County Animal Care & Control has claimed the life of a genuine canine war hero. The mistake has left the dog's owner devastated.
Earlier this year the dog, named Target, helped to thwart a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, saving the lives of U.S. soldiers.
Target went missing from her San Tan Valley home on Veteran's day, which was Thursday. Her owner, Sgt. Terry Young, found Target on Pinal County's animal care website late Friday. He told KGUN9 News he thought he had plenty of time, that the dog would be safe until he could get to the shelter on Monday morning to pick her up.
That assessment turned out to be tragically incorrect. When Sgt. Young arrived at the shelter to inquire about Target, he learned she'd already been put down -- by mistake.
That mistake has left Sgt. Young grieving for his lost friend. "When you go through such an intense experience with somebody, albeit a dog, you just grow a very strong bond," he said.
Target was one of three dogs who helped attack the suicide bomber that night in Afghanistan. The dogs' exploits earned them a guest slot on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
"It was February 11, 2010. It was 9 o'clock at night, and an individual with a suicide vest made his way up to the compound," Young explained to Oprah.
That's when Target attacked the bomber. Two other dogs, Sasha and Rufus, did, too -- putting their lives on the line, and saving 50 American soldiers from possible death.
"The suicide bomber ended up detonating his bomb as he entered the barracks but because of the dogs heroics only 5 soldiers were medevaced," a member of Arizona's Friends of Animal Control & Care recalled.
The suicide vest explosion left the dogs injured. Medics treated them like soldiers. Sasha did not make it. Rufus went to Georgia. And, Target came home to Arizona with his best friend, Sergeant Young.
Arizona's Friends of Animal Control & Care recently honored Target. So it's no surprise that when word got out that Target was missing, her Facebook page lit up with messages of concern.
The animal shelter mistake has left his owner speechless and close to tears. In an interview with KGUN9 News, Sgt. Young choked up, and was not able to continue. "Oh my God, sorry!" he said, burying his head in his hand.
Sgt. Young says Pinal Co. Animal Care Director Ruth Stalter was horrified at the mistake. "She just kept saying, 'I'm so sorry, I'm sorry. This is an absolute mistake, it shouldn't have happened like this,'" recounted Sgt. Young.
Stalter has yet to repeat that apology publicly on camera. However, she did release a statement on Monday saying in part, "I am heartsick over this. I had to personally deliver the news to the dog's owner and he and his family are understandably distraught."
In the statement, Stalter said that Target should not have been euthanized. "When it comes to euthanizing an animal, there are some clear-cut procedures to follow. Based on my preliminary investigation, our employee did not follow those procedures."
The statement added that Target had not been microchipped or licensed with the county.
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