Seeing his dog Rosemary jump up and down at Bradshaw Animal Shelter should have been the beginning of a happy reunion for Alec Nygard. That is, until he learned he wouldn’t be getting Rosemary back.

Rosemary, a 3.5-pound Chihuahua-Miniature Pinscher mix, escaped from Nygard’s Cameron Park home on April 4. That same day, she was brought into Sacramento County’s Bradshaw Animal Shelter – a shelter more than 20 miles away from home.

“I checked the local shelters and vets but no one had seen her,” said Nygard, explaining that he never thought the little dog would be able to travel that far of a distance on her own.

By the time someone alerted Nygard that she was listed on Bradshaw’s website, it was April 8. Rosemary, renamed Nala, had been listed for adoption that day after a mandatory 72-hour hold, and she was quickly adopted.

“[The shelter supervisor] said essentially there’s nothing she could do, she wasn’t my property anymore, and I was too late, essentially,” said Nygard.

Rosemary was brought in without identification tags on her collar, and she wasn’t microchipped. Had there been either form of identification, the shelter would have held the dog for a longer period of 10 days before placing her up for adoption.

A shelter spokesperson said that once the paperwork had been signed by the new adopter, the dog was no longer in the legal custody of the shelter – even though Rosemary was still technically at Bradshaw, waiting to be picked up.

“It was heartbreaking to leave her there after having her see me and getting her excited. I can only imagine she’s very confused,” said Nygard.

The shelter said in an email that Nygard was “argumentative and disruptive to shelter staff” and would not provide personal identification or proof of ownership.

Nygard said he was more than willing to go get the proper information, but became upset when the shelter wouldn’t promise to hold Rosemary at the shelter until he returned.

“I said I would like to sit and wait there to see the new adopters and try to explain the scenario, explain what happened, explain why I didn’t expect her to be way down there, and she told me you’re not speaking to anybody in person, and if you don’t leave now, I’m going to call the police,” said Nygard.

The shelter said Rosemary’s adopter has been told that her former owner came to pick her up, but the adopter has no intention of returning the dog to Nygard.

Despite this, Nygard maintains hope that the new owner will change her mind.

“There are a million homeless dogs out there that need love, but that dog is my dog. I love her more than anyone could ever imagine,” he said.

The shelter says similar situations – in which owners come to claim dogs that have already been adopted – occur as many as a dozen times each year.

The spokesperson says that in about half of these cases, the new adopters decide to return the pets. As for the rest? They say they’ve already bonded with their newest members of the family, and decide to keep the dogs.

Nygard has started a petition to demand Rosemary’s return. By late Wednesday evening, the petition had received more than 700 signatures.