This dog's tale comes with a happy ending

Anna Tarter, with her daughter Dadence, was reunited Tuesday with her dog Dempsey at the Doc Williams SPCA center in Goose Creek.

GOOSE CREEK -- The dog is obviously Dempsey. She comes right up to Anna Tarter, tail wagging a mile a minute, licks her, rubs up against her, nestles in with her and her baby daughter.

Then the mixed breed dog goes back to its cage from the "guest room" at the Doc Williams SPCA Adoption Center, where the staff insists the dog she just saw was not Dempsey. They say Dempsey was adopted last weekend. Tarter knows they're wrong.

"That's Dempsey. You could tell she knows who we are," Tarter said Tuesday. "They've given me the runaround."

For Tarter, this is just one more maddening moment in what she says has been a monthlong struggle to get her husband's dog returned.

Her husband, Anthony Davis, can't help. The senior airman is in Qatar with the Air Force.

This was a tale begging to have a happy ending.

In August, Tarter called Berkeley County Animal Control to take stray

dogs from her rural Berkeley County home. The dogs included three pups bred by Dempsey and fathered by a stray, as well as a stray female. She had tried unsuccessfully to get the pups adopted on Craigslist. She admits she had been feeding the strays.

"It's my passion to have animals," said Tarter, who studied wildlife biology at the University of Georgia. But with five other dogs of her own, and 3-month-old Dadence on her arm, the new dogs were too much.

The animal control officers showed up, sorted through the animals and handed Tarter the papers. She signed over Dempsey too, because the pups had not completely weaned, she said.

"Honestly it was kind of overwhelming," Tarter said. "Maybe it was me not thinking straight, having hopes I could get her back."

No such luck.

"We would never take an animal just to return it later. We wouldn't take a nursing female to return it," said John Nutter, Berkeley County chief animal control officer. "From what I understand, she turned them in knowing they most likely would be adopted."

Because the dogs had shots and were neutered, animal control turned them and the pups over to the county SPCA to be adopted from the Doc Williams center. Tarter spoke to her husband in Qatar and realized she had made a mistake.

"That's his dog. When I told him, he was beside himself," she said. She called animal control, then called the Doc Williams shelter. She was told $115 was the adoption fee.

She couldn't believe it; she already had paid to neuter and vaccinate Dempsey, and is on a food program to help feed her dogs. She called again and got the same answer, she said.

"She signed surrender papers, and the reason she stated was because they needed a better home," said Marcia Atkinson, Doc Williams SPCA executive director. "We're a nonprofit. We have been caring for all of these dogs. There is a responsibility behind her ownership. She made this decision."

Charleston is a military town, Atkinson said. The SPCA faces this sort of thing all the time and tries to work with families. "Husband deployed" raises an alert flag for shelter workers, she said.

But Tarter had animal control pick up the dogs rather than bring them in. On top of everything else, paperwork bumbles had apparently misidentified Dempsey as the other adult dog by the time they were in the shelter, Atkinson said on Tuesday.

Atkinson has a son in Iraq. "That alone broke my heart," she said. "It's a cautionary tale. It sounds like she didn't get to us soon enough, and I wish she had. We would have counseled her. We would have worked with her and tried to work it out."

On Tuesday, Atkinson called Tarter to work it out.

"Apparently there's been tons of miscommunication," Tarter said.

By the end of the day, Atkinson and Tarter had an agreement, and some adoption costs were offset by tapping "a very small bucket" of military assistance funds donated to the shelter, Atkinson said. Tarter "was lucky. We have a happy ending because the animal is still here."

The thrill in Anna Tarter's voice told that she couldn't quite believe it. "We can go get Dempsey tomorrow," she said.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744 or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bopete.