The story of Riley, the wayward golden retriever, is an illustration of three principles. First, the key principle that facts really do matter. Second, the principle that people never help their case by hiding. And third, that there’s a difference between what’s legal and what’s right.

The Mercury published the tale of Riley, to the best of our ability to get it, over the weekend. Riley is a Golden who was hauled into the local dog pound Feb. 3. The dogcatcher found him running loose at a Kwik Shop.

The dog pound formally known as the T. Russell Reitz Animal Shelter did everything it was supposed to do. They scanned Riley for a microchip, then called the two phone numbers associated with the chip they detected. No answer on either. They put the dog’s picture on Facebook. They fed the dog, who shelter director Deb Watkins told me was ravenous and skinny because he appeared to have been running loose for several days. And they put his picture on the shelter’s Facebook page to try to find the owner.

They also neutered him; he’s a full adult dog but had not been fixed. Then they found him a new home with an adoptive family on Feb. 10, a week after he’d been hauled in.

Hard to argue with any of that.

Last week, Riley’s previous owner posted on Facebook that she wanted the dog back. She claimed that the shelter had never tried to contact her. She called the shelter last Wednesday, the 17th, to inquire, and got the answer that Riley had been adopted out, so she took to Facebook, saying that “I am begging for my daughter and (my) best friend back.”

The woman is Destiny Jones, whose Facebook page indicates that she lives in Junction City. She did not respond to several attempts by The Mercury to contact her.

Here’s the thing: I can’t help but empathize with her. Nor could many pet owners. If our dogs went missing, Angie and I would call in the National Guard if we had to.

My guess is that the majority of you, if you were asked a hypothetical, would say that Riley really belongs to the family that raised him. That’s the previous owner, right?

Legally, the shelter took ownership, and passed the ownership along to the new adoptive family. That’s all on the up-and-up. But if the original owner came forward, it seems like the right thing would be to give the dog back to her. That’s the difference between what’s legal and what’s right.

The problem is that the woman is not coming forward. That’s the other principle you never help your own case by hiding.

Which brings us to the most important principle: Facts matter. Why was the dog running loose in the first place? We don’t know. If the owner lives in Junction City, why was Riley in Manhattan? No idea. If the dog was picked up Feb. 3, why did the owner not call the shelter before Feb. 17? No clue. If the dog really was skinny and ravenous when it was picked up Feb. 3, how long before had it gone missing? The only person who could answer that is Ms. Jones, unless somebody else was supposed to be taking care of him. We don’t know.

Do you blame the shelter for getting the dog a new home? Absolutely not. Do you blame the new owners for providing a home to a stray? Of course not. Do you blame the previous owner for letting the dog get loose and failing to do anything for a couple of weeks? Well, we just don’t know what happened, so we have to suspend judgment. Depending on what facts emerge, perhaps it would be the right thing to try to reunite Riley with his previous owners. But we can’t jump to that conclusion from here, because we just don’t have the facts we need to do that.

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