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Home for the Holidays

Louise Sumner with JoJo
Jackie Mercandetti

JoJo Shedd will celebrate her first Thanksgiving on Thursday, and her adoptive mom couldn't be happier.

"She's really had an amazing life so far," says Louise Sumner, a Paradise Valley woman who adopted JoJo last spring. "She's been here, there and everywhere, and we're thrilled she's finally back home."

By "we," Sumner means her husband (Steve Shedd), her two sons (10-year-old Zachary and 13-year-old Jesse), her three cats and three dogs.

Sumner retrieved JoJo at Sky Harbor International Airport two weeks ago, after a series of events that took the 8-month-old black cockapoo from the Maricopa County Animal Care and Control Center on a road trip to Juneau, Alaska. Actually, for a two-week period that ended happily November 9, the Shedds didn't know if JoJo was dead or alive.

"Her story is something that you couldn't make up if you tried," says Sumner. "It has good guys, bad guys, and people who just didn't know any better. She's my little star."

JoJo's tale began on the streets of Guadalajara, Mexico. Her opportunities for a long, healthy life seemed slim and none until she caught a monumental break in April.

Louise Sumner had volunteered to find a "small, fluffy puppy" to put up for bidding at a charity fund raiser. She says she found a newspaper advertisement for a cockapoo, and bought the dog (not JoJo). But that pup took ill on the evening of the auction, and later died of parvovirus.

Sumner quickly called around, and heard about a guy who had rescued a litter of abandoned poodle-mix puppies in Guadalajara and brought them to the States. Sumner ended up with JoJo (she was dubbed "Scruffy" at first for obvious reasons), and took her to the auction, injured tail, two sets of upper canines, and all.

But no one bid on the pup. Sumner even tried to convince her own mother to take JoJo. Plan B: add the puppy to her own menagerie.

"It's absurd," Sumner says. "I have cats, dogs, a hamster living in the attic, kids and a husband. What the heck did I need this dog for? But she was a real character."

In October, Sumner and her husband boarded JoJo at the Squaw Peak Animal Hospital, at 32nd Street and Lincoln Drive, while they went on a weeklong trip to Mexico.

The Shedds went to Mexico on October 17. The next morning, a Saturday, a Squaw Peak employee took JoJo out for a walk. Somehow, the dog slipped her leash and took off running on North 32nd Street toward Lincoln Drive.

She disappeared and, despite the vet's efforts to find her -- including running an ad and checking local animal shelters -- the dog was still gone when the Shedds returned from Mexico on October 25.

Early the next morning, Sumner drove to the trailhead parking lot with a photo of JoJo and showed it around. Again, the good fortune that seems to embrace JoJo took hold.

A man named Dave Reimold said he'd found JoJo wandering on busy Lincoln Drive the previous Saturday afternoon. Reimold told Sumner that he'd taken the unidentifiable dog home with him for a few hours, then took her to the county pound on South 35th Avenue.

"What a moment!" says Sumner, who tends to get worked up as she recollects the events. "I knew at that instant that JoJo was still alive."

Later that day, Sumner went to the pound, where she asked a clerk to look up Reimold's records in an effort to find out where JoJo was.

But, Sumner says, the clerk told her she couldn't reveal what had happened to JoJo. She could only tell her the dog wasn't there. More information, the clerk said, would require a public records request.

A scene ensued. "I was not thrilled at how rude and unhelpful they were, to put it mildly," Sumner recalls.

She says she drove to the home of a neighbor who is an attorney and sought advice. The neighbor, Cynthia Buness, phoned the pound and threatened to sue if she didn't get answers.

The next day, Buness wrote in a letter to the facility's director, Al Aguinaga, that she'd learned from someone there that the dog had been "dispositioned."

Later that day, another pound employee called back to inform the barrister that JoJo had been adopted.

Meanwhile, an unnamed "public record custodian" at the pound had rejected Sumner's request to access records about her wayward pup. "The names of person who claim, adopt or turn in animals to or from Maricopa County Animal Care and Control are not released. The disposition of said animals is not released."

On October 27, JoJo's vet reminded director Aguinaga in writing that no dog fitting JoJo's description had been posted on the "lost dog" part of the pets911 Web site -- a site to which the pound refers desperate pet owners in a telephone recording.

"Although the dog was brought to your facility on the 18th," Dr. Michael Ferrera wrote, "the dog's profile was never put onto the found' portion of that Web site. We request that the adopting family be contacted and informed of the fact that the dog's owner has been located, so that it may be returned as soon as possible."

By now, Sumner says, "My Irish was up."

That Monday, she called a friend in Governor Janet Napolitano's office, as well as county supervisor Andy Kunasek.

The next afternoon, pound authorities informed Sumner that JoJo had been adopted on October 26 -- the day Sumner had gone there looking for her pup -- and was on her way to Arkansas.

Later that day, Animal Care and Control called and said that JoJo actually was adopted on October 22 and was really on her way to Juneau, Alaska, more than 3,100 miles from Phoenix.

They still wouldn't tell her who had adopted JoJo.

On November 3, Sumner contacted the Juneau Empire newspaper and spoke with reporter Eric Fry. She faxed the writer what little paperwork she had, and a photo of the dog.

Around that time, Cynthia Buness phoned the pound for an update. According to the attorney, a secretary at the facility told her the pound had received a voice message from the Alaska woman.

The woman said that the dog jumped out of the window of a moving car and was dead. There was no death certificate, the dog was cremated, and the ashes were already spread.

Louise Sumner refused to believe JoJo was gone for good.

On Friday, November 7, the Juneau Empire ran a story with the headline, "Family Seeks Missing Poodle."

It noted animal-control officers had reported JoJo's apparent death, then quoted Jim Bloom, chief of staff for county supervisor Kunasek, "If the dog is still alive, we hope it would be returned to the family that lost it."

The same day, the Alaska woman phoned Cynthia Buness in Arizona and admitted it had all been a big fat lie. JoJo, the woman confessed, never had fallen out of her car, and was alive and well.

The woman said she'd lied because of JoJo's condition at the pound -- unspayed, bad teeth, matted fur and no collar. She said she'd paid $150 to adopt the dog, which included spaying, licensing and having an identification microchip implanted in JoJo's neck.

The Alaska woman agreed to ship the dog back to Arizona. Sumner wired the woman $700, much more than the shipping cost.

"I wanted to make sure she had enough to get another dog," Sumner says, "because she seems like a decent person even though she lied."

The much-traveled cockapoo took her first airplane ride that evening, flying in a crate from Juneau to Phoenix. Sumner anxiously awaited JoJo's scheduled arrival at midnight and, for once, there were no glitches.

"She greeted me enthusiastically," Sumner says. "Yip yip yip yip yip! I'm sure that she knew who I was -- certainly, we all want to make that assumption."

Back home in Paradise Valley, the Shedds happily welcomed JoJo back into the fold. All of them, that is, but the family's three other dogs.

"Those guys had rallied around me when JoJo was missing," Sumner says, "coming by to get petted or whatever when I was crying or miserable. And of course, they had gotten some extra attention during that time. I told them they'll just have to figure out that there's plenty of love to go around."

E-mail paul.rubin@newtimes.com, or call 602-229-8433.


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