HAYWARD -- Zelma Nunez-Borja and Dudley Rauch just wanted to find the owner of a Pomeranian when they took him to the city animal shelter, but the couple's bid to help ended up dooming the little canine.
The Pomeranian flunked a behavioral test given all shelter dogs to see if they're fit for adoption, and the city of Hayward's animal shelter took the required action.
"They told me they had euthanized him," Nunez-Borja said of the dog the couple had named Latte. "That was the shock of my life; I felt so betrayed. I went to pieces, and so did Dudley. I think I even swore; I'm sorry about that."
What they didn't know is that when a dog is not claimed by an owner, the shelter puts it through a series of tests to see if it's ready to be adopted.
In one test, a bowl of food is put in front of the dog. As the animals eats, an artificial hand on a stick, called an Assess-a-Hand, is placed near the bowl and gradually moved inside it to assess the dog's reaction.
In the Pomeranian's test, the dog became aggressive. The shelter staff had no choice but to euthanize it, said Jennie Comstock, Hayward animal services administrator.
"It aggressively bit the hand several times," she said. "We don't want to adopt any animal that has the potential to bite someone."
Nunez-Borja, who along with Rauch found the dog wandering on Parkside Drive earlier this month, said the dog gave her a different impression.
"He came to me when I called him. He was a very friendly dog," she said. "He was well-fed. His fur was OK, his weight was OK. It looked as if he had escaped."
After Nunez-Borja and Rauch found the dog, they canvassed the neighborhood looking for the owner, without any luck. They decided to take him to the animal shelter, figuring that's where the owner would look. "We were sure that someone was looking for the doggy," she said.
They found the dog Aug. 4 and kept it until the shelter opened the following Tuesday, Nunez-Borja said. Shelter staff told the couple that if the dog, who had no tag or microchip, was not claimed, it would be put up for adoption.
After 11 days, the couple returned to the shelter to take the Pomeranian's photo, because they had found two people interested in taking the animal.
They had not been informed about the food test and its consequences, Nunez-Borja said.
"If somebody had told me, I would have trained the dog not to do that. I know I could," said Nunez-Borja, who owns a Chihuahua. "It's so sad they killed this healthy animal without anybody getting a chance to teach the dog how to behave." The only thing that concerned her was the dog was not neutered, she said.
Comstock said every dog is examined by a veterinarian and tested for any behavior problems before being placed for adoption to assure public safety. The Assess-a-Hand is commonly used at shelters to test for food aggression, she said.
"You wouldn't want to put your hand near the bowl during the testing. Sometimes it's pretty frightening to watch, and you're grateful it's not your actual hand," she said.
"We do make every effort to find our animals new homes. There are cases where we've kept them for months if they're adoptable," she said. "We'd love to find them all homes, but we have to be aware of public safety."
Nunez-Borja said she wishes she had not have taken the dog to the shelter but instead looked for a group that fosters and trains Pomeranians.
"I feel terrible. I took this animal to his death. I feel so bad when I think about it," she said. "It hurts."
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.