Chloe suffered a broken leg the night she disappeared from her own backyard. | Credit: Courtesy

Two women are suing the County of Santa Barbara for the return of their 4-year-old Yorkshire terrier after the dog went missing one night last summer, was picked up by Animal Services the next day, and within a week adopted out to new owners who have refused to give her back.

On August 2, 2020, at around 11:40 p.m., according to court documents, Johanna Sanchez and Diana Mosquera were sitting in the fenced backyard of their Montecito home when Chloe, who was not wearing a collar at the time and had not been microchipped, ran toward a noise at the edge of the property. There was a commotion, and Sanchez and Mosquera heard Chloe yowl, after which they couldn’t find her in their yard or their neighbors’. They thought perhaps a coyote or mountain lion had taken her. They called the Fire Department and 9-1-1, which both declined to offer any assistance, the lawsuit claims.

Over the following days, Sanchez and Mosquera searched the neighborhood high and low, knocking on doors, hanging flyers, and posting on social media. They did not, however, contact the county’s Animal Services. If they had, they would have discovered Chloe was scooped up the morning after she went missing near the Miramar and placed in a county shelter, where she was treated for a badly broken leg.

By the time Sanchez and Mosquera discovered Chloe’s whereabouts on August 9, a week after she disappeared, four business days had passed and, per county protocols, she’d been put up for adoption and claimed by new owners. Animal Services asked the new owners if they’d be willing to return Chloe to Sanchez and Mosquera, who’d raised the American Canine Association–accredited terrier as a puppy, but they declined.

In their lawsuit, the pair alleges the county’s adopting out of Chloe amounts to an illegal taking of private property. No notices were given and no hearings were held, they said, which are both required when the government impounds and potentially euthanizes a dangerous dog.

Why, they ask, are those obligations not extended to reuniting animals with their rightful owners in exceptional circumstances such as these? Can’t there be a little bit of leeway? Sanchez and Mosquera also accuse the county of the “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

In its rebuttals, the county argues Animal Services and its employees were simply following local regulations as they relate to stray dogs with no collar or tags. Without any way to identify Chloe’s owners when she was found, County Counsel said, staff did the lawful thing by treating her injuries and holding her for the prescribed number of days before putting her up for adoption.

As for the accusation of emotional distress, the bar to prove such an allegation is exceptionally high, the county noted. According to current case law, Sanchez and Mosquera would need to prove Animal Services acted in such an extreme manner as to “exceed all bounds of that usually tolerated in a civilized community.”

The case is currently in a procedural stage, and is being heard by Judge Colleen Sterne. The next hearing is scheduled for August 30.

Correction: Chloe was found at the Miramar, not the S.B. Hilton.

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