LONDONDERRY — Within moments of meeting his new pet, Andre St. Laurent watched in horror as the 3-year-old Belgian Malinois slipped from her collar and darted off toward Interstate 95 in Kittery, Maine.
A frantic search ensued. The next day, an injured Annie turned up in nearby Portsmouth, and the St. Laurents were facing a $1,200 vet bill and a civil citation from the Maine State Police.
"We understand that owners need to be responsible for their dogs, but hadn't even gotten the chance to take custody of the dog at that time," Liane St. Laurent said Tuesday night. "This dog crossed I-95 a couple times. We're lucky no one was killed."
The Londonderry couple says they have no regrets, but hope their story will serve as a cautionary tale to those seeking to adopt a pet as to what can go wrong during a dog transport.
"There's definitely a darker side that most of us aren't told about," Liane St. Laurent said.
The couple found their dog on Petfinder.com. Annie was listed through Southern Jewel Dog Rescue out of Mississippi and was being fostered in South Carolina. Referred to a pet transport service, the St. Laurents said they made arrangements for Annie to be picked up by All Paws Transport Service.
On Saturday morning, Andre St. Laurent set off for Maine, where he planned to meet the All Paws convoy at the Irving Circle K truck stop in Kittery. Liane St. Laurent was attending a teachers conference in Vermont.
Andre St. Laurent said he was told to bring an adjustable dog collar and leash, which he handed to an All Paws staffer entering the parked transport van.
"They told us the dog was acting snippy and was very nervous," Liane said. "She was very scared after the long trip."
Annie pulled away from the handler, fell off the van's ramp and escaped her collar, and headed for the highway.
The St. Laurents said staffers from All Paws stuck around for a little while in hopes of luring Annie back, but eventually had to leave.
"Never having gone through an adoption like this before, I never once thought to ask (All Paws) about their emergency plan," Liane St. Laurent said Tuesday. "They go to this same spot every week, so you'd think they'd have some sort of plan."
All Paws Transport Service is based in Hernando, Miss., and transports shelter dogs to New England on a weekly basis, charging $125, according to the organization's website.
Contacted by email on Wednesday, All Paws owner Pepper Stidmon said Andre St. Laurent did not bring the specified adjustable collar — a fact the St. Laurents dispute.
"Unfortunately, there is no way to plan for a dog slipping out of the wrong type of collar," Stidmon said. "A lot of our dogs our nervous during transport. But we feel our safety measures are very adequate. If they weren't, things like this would happen all the time and they do not."
Stidmon said Annie slipped out of her collar "within five seconds and was bolting."
"She was terrified and in flight mode," Stidmon said. "We were in the process of setting up feeding stations and securing a trap when she was caught."
A couple at the scene referred Andre St. Laurent to Maine Lost Dog Recovery; volunteers immediately jumped in to help find Annie and bring her home. Reports of Annie sightings poured in over the weekend.
"We'd heard that traffic came to a full stop along I-95 on several occasions," Liane said.
A Maine state trooper contacted the couple to inform them Annie had been spotted in Kittery. Andre said he drove out to meet with the trooper, who issued him a civil citation.
The St. Laurents said Maine state police called back later to tell them a "no complaint" report had been issued; they were told the court summons would likely be dismissed.
A call made to the Maine State Police on Wednesday wasn't immediately returned.
At 8 p.m. Sunday, the St. Laurents received a call from the Portsmouth Police Department informing them Annie had been found and taken to the Port City Veterinary Referral Clinic. Veterinarians believe a car may have struck the dog, though she is expected to recover fully.
"She's resting in my office right now," Liane St. Laurent said Tuesday night. "Her paw pads were completely worn off and she's got a bad laceration on her leg."