Here’s another “only in Miami” story for you: Barbie, a sheltie owned by a murder suspect, was reportedly “dognapped” by a North Miami police officer after she was found at the crime scene with blood-soaked paws and a forlorn look on her face.

The officer took the dog home, she explained, so that Barbie might avoid the fate of a previous homicide investigation’s find. The officer alleges that a Maltese found at a crime scene months before Barbie’s, was euthanized after she was taken into custody and remanded to Humane Services in the wake of her family’s involvement in a murder case.

In fact, it is apparently the policy of many police departments to send a suspect’s pet (when found with the individual and when it does not have the benefit of another caretaker) to Humane Services, where it may be euthanized in a certain period of time if not claimed by a family member or friend on the suspect’s behalf.

In this instance, the officer returned Barbie once the suspect’s mother appeared to claim the dog. She had bathed, fed and kept Barbie for a few days during the interval, reportedly seeking only to keep her out of harm’s way.

The North Miami Police Department, however, has suspended the officer, along with her accomplice, a detective, who also harbored Barbie during the period of time in question.

No, no one’s complaining. The murder suspect’s family never thought to make an issue of it. After all, the dog was returned in good condition, free of the parasites and diseases she might have suffered had she been sent down to the municipal shelter. Everyone was happy, in fact, until another officer leaked the info on the irregularities of Barbie’s case to the department.

A full investigation revealed the misdeeds of the officer and detective, and the North Miami Police Department stands by its suspensions as a disciplinary action appropriate to the crime. It further contends that the officer’s action in removing property from a crime scene harms the case against the suspect. (How, I have to wonder, unless the DNA evidence on her paws was crucial to the case’s prosecution—but then, I’m no CSI watcher, so I wouldn’t know.)

It seems clear to me that officers should not be taking dogs home from crime scenes. But it’s also evident that there’s far too much murkiness and/or internal disagreement with respect to policy on the issue of handling the live “property” of a criminal suspect.

Policies with respect to animal handling in these cases are obviously tricky. Not only must they be humane, they should also reflect the fact that our judicial system views suspects as innocent until proven guilty. Given the near-inhumane conditions that predominate in our Miami shelters, subjecting a suspect’s pet to their disease and discomfort unduly punishes the blameless.

As this officer’s case illustrates (yet again), when it comes to society’s treatment of animals…there has to be a better way.