Investigations

Pet Resource Center inadvertently gives dog back to owner who abandoned it

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY(WFLA) - Inadequate pre-adoption screening at Hillsborough County's Pet Resource Center resulted in a dog being placed with an owner who abandoned it last year.

Tiger, a tan and white American Staffordshire Terrier, was pushed out of a car as his owner, Omar Lopez-Figueroa drove off, leaving the dog lost and alone. The incident was captured on video in August 2017 and quickly went viral.

Investigators eventually tracked down the vehicle and were able to find Lopez-Figueroa and the dog. The Pet Resource Center confiscated Tiger and Lopez-Figueroa was forbidden to ever own another dog. 

But when Tampa police arrested Lopez-Figueroa on arson charges in February, they found a familiar face in his backyard. It was Tiger.

"It’s mind-boggling, it truly is," said Rescue Me Tampa's Tamar Barry.

The dog spent nearly four months in the county animal shelter where he was treated at taxpayer expense and in November, Roger Mills, director of field operations with the PRC stood in front of television and newspaper cameras and said the dog was in great shape.   

"Tiger is up for adoption, he'll be looking for a happy home," he said.

But in December, the PRC's warts started showing.

Records show the county adopted the dog to Milagros Caballero Omar, the girlfriend of Lopez-Figueroa.

"They allowed the owner’s girlfriend, who owned the car he (Tiger) was pushed out of, who admitted to being in the car when he was pushed out, she just walked right in and adopted him," said Ms. Barry.  "And then she gave him (Tiger) back to the guy who pushed him out of the car."

The PRC has defended the mistake, noting that Ms. Caballero has a different last name than Tiger's original owner and lives at a different address.

"She was on the investigative report from when he (Tiger) was pushed out of the car," exclaimed Ms. Barry.

The PRC's own investigative records show Ms. Caballero owned the car the dog was pushed out of, and was in the vehicle when the incident occurred.  

"We have no screening, they ask no questions, all they care about is that the dog leaves alive so they can put a check mark next to his number," Ms. Barry said.

On Wednesday, Target 8 revealed a dog adopted out by PRC in October had been turned into the C.A.R.E. Animal Shelter in Ruskin in March with serious problems.

According to C.A.R.E. president Michelle Rhodarmer, the dog, now called Theo, was emaciated, covered with thousands of fleas that had nearly sucked his blood dry.  And a simple dry-eye problem that could have been treated with daily eye drops, escalated into corneal ulcers and scarring.  Theo is blind and may never regain his sight, according to Ms. Rhodarmer.
  
After a month of intensive care, Theo still requires care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  His prognosis is guarded. 

Rescue groups blame PRC Director Scott Trebatoski for gutting the screening process in a rush to up the numbers of live releases.

They wonder if county commissioners even care about animals.   

The PRC has issued a statement regarding Tiger, saying it investigated again, confiscated the dog again and now an animal rescue group has adopted Tiger.  

What the statement did not include is that Tiger got loose from the rescue and remains missing, according to sources. 

If you have something that you think should be investigated call our Target 8 Helpline at 1-800-338-0808 or contact Steve Andrews at sandrews@wfla.com. 


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