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An East Bethel family is still searching for its dog after it was impounded in November by the city’s animal control officer, prompting some to criticize the city’s recent renewal of its contract with the officer.

The City Council postponed the matter for several weeks before voting Jan. 17 to renew the contract with animal control officer Tammy Gimpl, despite the objections of several in the audience.

City officials didn’t consider another contractor or take bids for the job, which the city isn’t required to do for this position.

“It’s obviously an unfortunate incident that happened with this dog, but you know, the [animal control officer] … followed the protocol. And the dog owner failed to claim the dog,” said East Bethel Mayor Steven Voss.

“It’s just become a big drama fest,” said Ashley Wellman, the former owner of Duke, a 1½-year-old coonhound. “Really, I just want to know where he is. I just want to get him back home.”

Gimpl is co-owner of Gratitude Farms, which breeds and boards dogs in East Bethel. She picked up Duke in November after the dog bolted from Wellman’s truck. Three days later, Wellman contacted Gimpl and said she couldn’t afford the standard $180 fee to retrieve Duke. Negotiations to lower the charge fell apart.

By the time Wellman had raised the money from family members, the six-day maximum hold time had passed and Gimpl had impounded the dog at Gratitude Farms, where Duke was placed with a new owner.

Wellman, who said she didn’t know about the six-day deadline, lost track of the dog. She said she has requested information from city officials about Duke’s whereabouts and new owners, and received no response.

Jack Davis, East Bethel city administrator, said the requests were not filled because Duke’s current location isn’t public information. Davis said Gimpl followed her contract and that her “fees are in line with the fees for our neighboring cities.”

“Beyond the Gratitude Farms, we have no line in the chain of custody where [Duke] goes,” he said. The people who have adopted Duke, he said, also fear harassment and for their personal security.

Wellman said she’s working with a lawyer to locate Duke. “What does it show my kids if I just give up,” she said. “He’s our pet, [it’s] our responsibility … to get him back home.”

Voss said the council renewed the contract with Gimpl because of their long and positive partnership. Up until the incident with Duke, Voss said, city officials had never received a complaint in the nine years they had contracted with Gimpl.

“The level of service we get is tremendous,” he said.

Wellman said the episode has been a “nightmare” for her family. She said her kids ask where Duke is whenever they see other dogs on TV.

“It really sucks,” she said.

Kelly Busche is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.