FLORENCE, Arizona — A dog named Target that lived through explosions in war-torn Afghanistan couldn't survive a brief stay at an Arizona animal shelter.
The shepherd mix was featured on "The "Oprah Winfrey Show" and local media for her heroics in Afghanistan, got loose from her owners on Friday and was put down on Monday after spending the weekend in a county shelter.
An unidentified employee at the Pinal County facility was placed on administrative leave after euthanizing the female shepherd mix by mistake, county Animal Care and Control officials said.
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"I'm heartsick over this," Ruth Stalter, the county animal control director, said in a written statement. "I had to personally deliver the news to the dog's owner and he and his family are understandably distraught."
Stalter said that the shelter works hard to reunite lost pets with their owners and that an investigation had been launched to determine how the mistake was made.
"When it comes to euthanizing an animal, there are some clear-cut procedures to follow," Stalter said. "Based on my preliminary investigation, our employee did not follow those procedures."
Adopted by U.S. troops
Sgt. Terry Young, the owner of the dog, told The Arizona Republic, "I just can't believe that something like this would happen to such a good dog."
Target frightened a suicide bomber inside a military base and potentially saved dozens of soldiers' lives, Young said.
According to "The Oprah Winfrey Show" website, Target and two other stray dogs, Sasha and Rufus, were adopted by U.S. troops in Afghanistan after wandering into a military compound there.
The three dogs were hailed as heroes after attacking a suicide bomber who entered the compound, apparently headed toward barracks with some 50 soldiers inside.
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Sasha was badly injured when the bomber detonated an explosive device and had to be euthanized, but Target and Rufus survived and were brought home with soldiers returning from their tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Young said the dog was treated like royalty at the base at Dand Patan, near the Pakistan border. Target was brought to the San Tan Valley area southeast of Phoenix in August, when Young returned home.
"He had personally been profoundly affected by this dog's heroism and had worked very hard to bring the dog back over here," Pinal County spokeswoman Heather Murphy said.
After the dog escaped from the family's back yard Friday, Young put out online notices and contacted TV stations that did reports on the missing hero dog.
A neighbor found Target wandering later Friday, put her in his back yard and called the pound. The dog did not have a microchip or tag.
On Friday night, Young found Target's picture on a website used by Pinal County's dog catchers to help owners track lost pets. Young figured the shelter was closed for the night and weekend.
He showed up at the shelter in Casa Grande to claim his dog on Monday, only to find out she was dead.
County officials say the employee mistakenly took the dog out of its pen Monday morning and euthanized it.
The Republic said Young and his family will get Target's cremated remains.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report