Woman arrested after trying to reunite dog with owner

(WMC-TV) - If you find a stray pet on the side of a Mississippi road you might want to keep on driving, or risk spending time in jail.

The Action News 5 Investigators uncovered a major problem with a Mississippi law, and good Samaritans can end up charged as dog-nappers.

Stephanie Mitchell is director at Drifter's Place Animal Rescue near Oxford.

Last week, Mitchell said she saw what appeared to be a stray dog. She looked for a tag and when she couldn't find one, she took the pooch home for the night.

But she never expected she would be arrested 24 hours later, and now she wants to change state law.

"I took it home, put it in my house, slept on a couch and the next day spent half a day trying to find the owners only to be arrested."

After trips to three veterinarians and a nearby gas station, she put the dog's picture on Facebook.

Within an hour, she said a friend identified the owners.

Mitchell said one of the dog owners accused her of stealing and they argued over the phone.

After the argument, Mitchell took the dog to a vet and told the owners to pick it up there.

"Later on that afternoon I received a phone call that I was to come to the sheriff's department because I had a warrant out for my arrest," Mitchell recalled.

Mississippi law states that any person who steals, takes, or carries away another person's dog can be indicted on the felony charge.

Mitchell understands the law's purpose, but not in her situation.

"They have a job to do, just like we do, but it's not appropriate in this case. There was no intent to steal a dog obviously," said Mitchell.

A deputy with the Lafayette County Sheriff's office said they've dealt with this problem before.

There are no leash laws in the county.

The deputy said that when owners let their pets out to use the bathroom, some wander off, leaving people like Mitchell to think the pet is homeless.

"If I see a dog in distress, I'm going to help it, and I don't want to be arrested," said Mitchell.

Now, Mitchell is on mission to change the laws so that people aren't afraid to help.

"What I see is boxes of puppies on the side of the road that everybody is scared to pick up and help," Mitchell said.

We tried to get in touch with the dog's owners for their side of the story, a family member wrote down my name and number but no one ever called back.

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