PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. - Indi the peripatetic Belgian Malinois was lost and found in the space of four frantic hours.
He found his way home thanks to a revolutionary program run by the Pembroke Pines, Fla., Police Department that helps reunite lost pets with their owners. National and local organizations such as PETA and the ASPCA say the program may be the only one of its kind in the country.
The program has rescued 58 dogs and four cats since late November, when it was founded by Sgt. Angela Goodwin. If the owners can't be found, Goodwin and her helpers find new homes for the animals.
Teofil Talpesh was out searching for Indi last week when an officer drove up with a flier bearing the dog's photo.
"I was so grateful to get him back," Talpesh said. "I was driving around the neighborhood yelling his name. It is really difficult when you have a pet you love and you feel like you're never going to see them again."
That morning, Indi had jumped the fence and hightailed it to a nearby school. Police were called to pick him up. But instead of taking him to the county pound, their Animal Assistance Program kicked into gear
Many dogs are found wandering the streets, scared, hungry and badly in need of medical care. Some have been dumped, but others are just lost, Goodwin said.
The program, funded entirely by donations, is run by 60 officers, crime scene technicians and records clerks who volunteer their time between shifts to walk the dogs, take them to the groomer and vet or put up "lost dog" signs. Some take the dogs home until their owners can be found.
"To me it's a labor of love," said Adam Feiner, a canine officer who is fostering Abby, a blind but gentle boxer-bulldog mix who mixes well with his dogs and two young children. "I feel horrible that so many of these animals have been abandoned. It's the least we can do, try to get them a home."
Three more small dogs came in one day last week, dropped off by a woman who said she found them roaming the streets. She told an officer she didn't want to take them to the pound because she was afraid they'd be put down. By Saturday, they all had been adopted.
If Goodwin has her way, the idea will catch on with other departments. Goodwin has pitched the program to other Florida agencies including Plantation, Miramar and the Broward Sheriff 's Office.
"The success of the program has been overwhelming," Goodwin said. "We're really trying to expand it to other cities. It's a great thing for the animals."
The first dog taken in by the program, an 11-year-old terrier mix named Precious, is no longer a matted fleabag. When Goodwin could not find her owner, she thought to herself, "Who is going to take on an 11-year-old dog?" So Goodwin adopted her. "I figured I'd take her home and keep her - as long as she got along with my cats."
For information on the program, go to www.poochesinpines.com or call the Police Department at 954-438-4357.