To say the family was happy when they learned Plato was alive and well, after being missing for weeks, would be quite an understatement.
“My son started to cry, he was so happy,” Jamie said.
The Hisers took Plato with them on a family trip to Clermont, Fla., where they stayed with relatives. Someone left the gate open in the yard, and Plato apparently wandered off July 30 to explore Florida. The family searched for hours, but left on July 31 to return home.
Jamie repeatedly phoned and emailed animal shelters in Florida, looking for a 10-year-old Jack Russell mix. Nobody claimed to know anything, but Jamie tried again and again in the intervening weeks.
A few days ago, Jamie’s email reached Denise Ridgeon, founder of Lifeline Dog Rescue in Davenport, Fla. Ridgeon requested a photo of Plato and mounted a determined effort to help find the missing dog.
“I answer every email that comes through,” said Ridgeon, a native of England who still retains her English accent. “There’s nothing worse than losing your own dog. I probably knew where to look, where it probably would have been taken.”
Ridgeon found a dog with Plato’s distinct markings through Petfinder.com , tracking him to a shelter in nearby Tavares, in Lake County.
That gave Plato a brush with death, because dogs held for weeks at the shelter often are euthanized. But when Ridgeon phoned the shelter, she learned Plato had been taken to Edgewater Animal Shelter in Edgewater, Fla.
As Jamie listened in, an Edgewater shelter worker told Ridgeon the dog, now named “Dexter” would be adopted out if anyone wanted him, even though his original owner had been found.
Facebook users — organized by Shelly Thomas, a friend of Jamie — flooded the shelter with messages. Shelter workers relented, agreeing to hold “Dexter” for 24 hours and release him to Ridgeon if she paid $125. Jamie sent the ransom money to Ridgeon by Paypal, and Ridgeon’s husband picked him up. Plato got a bath and a meal from the Ridgeons, and he’ll be their guest until the Hisers can return to Florida.
Edgewater Animal Shelter manager Beverly Cowling defended her shelter, saying that Plato is still alive because of the shelter’s efforts.
“We rescued eight animals who were about to be euthanized. Dexter was one of them,” Cowling said.
Cowling reduced the fee to $100 but said that’s fair because Dexter needed medical care, including treatment for an ear infection.
Although Jamie and Ridgeon both said they heard the Edgewater employee say Dexter would go out of the door immediately if anyone wanted him, Cowling said that’s not her policy. “I can’t believe anybody at the shelter would have said that,” she said.
Jamie said Plato will come home as soon as the family can figure out when they can drive out.
She said she’s grateful to Ridgeon.
“Denise is amazing,” Jamie said.