A Central Florida family is heartbroken after their missing pet was put down by a local animal services shelter even though the cat had a microchip.
Melissa Vargas said her family's beloved 7-year-old cat, Max, went outside in mid August, but never came back to their Palm Bay home.
Vargas said she scoured her neighborhood, posted Max's picture on missing pet websites and contacted the maker of his microchip, but he never turned up.
On Tuesday, Brevard County Animal Services called Vargas to notify her that they had picked up Max earlier in the day and euthanized him.
Vargas said it's been devastating for her three young children.
"I just (tell them) that he's gone," said a tearful Vargas. "And I just want justice."
"It was in incredibly bad shape," said Brevard County Animal Services Captain Bob Brown.
Brown admits his agency made a mistake and is promising to do a better job of scanning animals for microchips. He also admits in the past 12 years, the same thing has happened three or four other times, but said part of the problem is the animals are injured and in pain and don't want people touching them, scanning them for microchips.
In Max's case, Brown said he was found in such horrible condition that even with veterinary treatment, he may not have survived.
The cat was found less than a mile from his home, covered in scabies, a parasite that can lead to rapid weight loss and a painful rash.
Max was down from 30 pounds to just eight pounds. He was missing hair, had an eye infection and wounds all over his ears.
Animal services said they scanned for a microchip, but missed it and felt it was only humane to euthanize the cat.
Brown said, "And unfortunately, after the cat was euthanized, then just as a precaution, we do one more sweep and we picked up the chip."
Brown said chips are normally found behind the neck, but some migrate, and Max's was found in his lower abdomen.
Vargas admits she did not want Max to suffer, but said she would have paid for veterinary care to get Max treatment.
"I could have tried to save him," said Vargas.
Brown said typically after finding an animal, the agency waits five days for owners to come forward. If no one comes forward to claim the animal, all healthy, non-aggressive animals are then put up for adoption.
Brown said they only euthanize when the animal is ill, aggressive, the owner requests it or the agency runs out of space.
There are steps pet owners can take to prevent their animal from getting accidentally euthanized.
Brevard County dog and cat owners are required to license their pet. By doing so, owners will get an ID tag for the pet's collar.
The shelter also offers free microchips. If a pet goes missing, owners are advised to contact animal services immediately.
Brown said each day they return five to 10 lost pets, either through ID tags, microchips or people calling to report missing animals.