At animal shelters in Riverside County, employees know their horses -- a new one showed up every couple of weeks during the home-foreclosure crisis when owners abandoned the sometimes pricey animals.
But something was different about the 16-year-old black Shetland pony that showed up on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
"Most we take in are neglected," said John Welsh, spokesman for Riverside County animal services. "But this animal is super-well-cared-for, super-affectionate. This is somebody's pet."
The pony was wearing a high-quality halter and had its mane in a braid when a sheriff's deputy found it wandering a street in Jurupa Valley, Welsh said. The deputy guided the pony into a woman's yard nearby and shut the gate, corralling the pony inside until animal services arrived.
Welsh said animal services expected to get a call from the pony's owners right away, but so far no one has contacted the department.
"We're scratching our heads," said Welsh, who put out a news release titled, "Shetland Pony Mystery Continues: Where Is Owner of Well-Cared-For, Pretty Pony?"
The case has kicked up intrigue in the office, he said, and everyone is sharing theories on why the pony hasn't been claimed.
Welsh wonders if this isn't similar to the case from a few weeks ago -- the one with the missing tortoise. The reptile was at the shelter for a couple of weeks and employees were getting ready to send it to a rescue group when the owner showed up. The man said he had posted fliers all around town, but hadn't thought to check the shelter.
"The tortoise guy didn't know," Welsh said, "so chances are the Shetland pony guy doesn't know."
Another theory? Maybe the owners went away for Thanksgiving and haven't come home yet. Or, Welsh said, maybe they think their Shetland was stolen and have given up.
"The horse-rescue people are champing at the bit," Welsh said to take in the pony. "But we'd really like to see if the owner just needs to be told."
Anyone with information on the pony's owner is asked to call (951) 358-7387. Welsh encouraged people in the area who have lost a pet to check the database of found animals on the department's website.
Other than the pony, the database lists descriptions and pictures of 266 dogs, 157 cats, two rabbits, two turtles, two rats and a horse.