Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pet Store Thieves

People steal the dumbest stuff.  I'm sure it happens at every retail location, the employees never cease to be amazed by the ridiculous items people will put themselves at risk over.  In a pet store, it's usually really really dumb stuff.  Silent dog whistles that cost 1.99.  Little cans of fish food.  Multi-colored catnip scented ping-pong balls.  Really?  Seriously?  Most of the thefts from our store are items under five dollars and completely unnecessary.  Sometimes we get the people who open packs of spot-on flea control (not the expensive stuff, that stuff is kept in the office) which I can understand, but not agree with.  Your dog's got fleas and you got no money, well.  I'd rather think someone was stealing for the good of their animal than stealing just to steal.  Of course if you walk into the clinic at the SPCA and say, "Hey, I only have five dollars and my dog's got fleas really bad," they'd probably give you a single dose of Frontline that they usually sell for 8 dollars for the five you have on you.  They're awesome like that.

Every once in awhile, we get the person who decides, for whatever reason, to steal an animal.

In our store, we have cameras everywhere.  Literally, everywhere, except in the kennel, which is one of the reasons why we don't let people use our bathroom.  It's in the kennel.  Where there are syringes, prescription meds, and no cameras.  No, sorry, you cannot use our bathroom.  (People can get really belligerent about this, too, by the way.)  I know petty criminals usually aren't the sharpest tools in the shed, but you'd think they'd look up and see the cameras everywhere and think, "Hm.  Maybe this isn't a great idea."  I mean, they're even protected under the little black domes so you can't see which direction they're pointed.

Still, people do it.

The first time an animal got stolen when I worked there, it was a Maltese puppy.  About four years ago.  I wasn't working at the time.  (It seems like I'm almost NEVER working when an animal gets stolen.  I'm not sure why this is.)

We take EVERYONE'S state issued ID before we let them handle a puppy.  No ifs, ands or buts.  No, I don't want your Bank of America ID card.  I don't want your community college ID card.  I want the one that the state gave you.

This guy gave up his ID, took the Maltese puppy, waited around for things to get busy and then walked out with it.  Dumbass.  State trooper showed up, took the ID, ran the guy through the system and found out this guy had JUST gotten out of prison a week prior.  Whereupon he immediately goes out and commits a felony.  Way to go, justice system.  Recidivism, for the win.

What I can't understand is why steal the most expensive dog in the store when the ONLY reason it's expensive is because it is a purebred dog that can be registered?  You can't re-sell it for that amount, because you don't have the paperwork proving it is what you say it is since you frickin' stole it.  So what is the point?  You could have gone and gotten a free puppy out of the paper.  I dunno.

So they go to the guy's house and the dog (predictably) isn't there.  Due to some loophole in our local laws, apparently the cops can't do anything about animal thieves unless the animal is physically in the person's presence while the cops are also physically in the person's presence.  Guess how often that happens.

This guy got arrested on other charges (big surprise) and locked up again, but we never got the Maltese puppy back or even heard a peep about whatever happened to him.

Last Christmas Eve, while running errands that included doing last minute shopping for my little boy, I stopped by the store to pick up a paycheck I'd neglected to pick up.  Meaning to only be a second, I leave my SO sitting in the car.  It never fails, though, that when I'm in a rush and I know he's going to be irritated if I'm not quick, the store gets busy with needy customers who want every employee's attention and I end up standing around for 15 minutes until someone who can open the safe for me has dealt with them all.

While I was milling around waiting for someone to open the safe to get my paycheck this Christmas Eve, I meandered past the small animal petters.

Less than five minutes later, another employee went walking past the small animal petters and noticing one empty, asked, "Did we sell a ferret?"

I said, "No.  It was there two minutes ago, I just saw it, and nobody has been at the register."

They checked all the day's paperwork just in case.  No ferret sales slip.

The owner then runs up to check the footage on the cameras, and we see a young girl, maybe 20 years old, with a guy, bend over and pick up the ferret out of the petter, put it under her shirt, and proceed to walk out of the store.

Well Merry effin' Christmas.

The girl who was at the register said she went to high school with the girl who walked out with the ferret, but can't remember her name.  She is promptly dispatched to go home and get her yearbook so she can find out who this girl is.

I get my paycheck and feel like an ass wishing the owner a Merry Christmas right after 150.00 dollars gets yanked right out from under him, and then I leave.  When I get back out to the car, I expect to get an earful from my SO who has been sitting there now for closer to half an hour than the five minutes I promised.  I immediately launch into an explanation:  It got busy, then someone stole a ferret..

"Was it a girl with brown hair tied up sort of sloppy?"


"Here, I wrote down her license plate number," and he hands me a piece of paper on which was written '2007 orange Mustang GTO,' and a number.

"OMG, are you serious!  This is great!  Holy shit!  OMG!  What made you write that down?!"  This was the best Christmas present I could ever think of giving the boss man.

"Well, she came out of the store with something moving under her shirt, and she was just looking shady, so.. I mean I felt stupid after I wrote it down, but I figured I wasn't doing anything anyway, so I might as well.  If it turned out to be nothing, then it was nothing."

It was definitely NOT nothing.  I ran back into the store waving the piece of paper and yelling, now feeling like a million dollars when I tell the boss man, "Here, cheer up, Merry Christmas for real this time," and hand him the paper.  Talk about mood swings.

The police were called, the information, including her name which the part-time girl at the register got, were given them, and they headed over to her house where they found her and a ferret.  Score.

I've always wondered what this girl's parents felt like when they got the cop knock on their door on Christmas Eve.

Whatever they felt like, her dad did the unthinkable and just came in and paid the boss man for the ferret.  I couldn't believe it when I heard that.  My mom would have let me face the consequences of what I'd done if I ever had pulled some dumb shit like that.  What has happened to parenting?

She didn't get arrested, but our store has it's own justice.  Anytime someone steals something, we take the clearest still frame of them actually in the act, along with others of the face and profile if we can, print them out, and stick them up on our Wall of Shame.  Yes, we have a Wall of Shame.  It's actually called that, with big bubble cut-out letters above the posters of stupid people stealing dumb stuff.  The girl who prints these things out comes up with unflattering nick names for the people if we don't ever find out their real names (The Pig Lady, The Muzzle Bandit, The Test Tube Baby), and we post them all over the store in prominent places for a few months before they get retired to take their place on The Wall.  It might not deter them from stealing in another store, but they sure as hell don't come back in ours once they hear we have their picture posted all over the place.  Also, anyone who might know them now knows that they are thieves.  The way I explain it to people is this:  If we can't trust them in our store, you probably can't trust them in your house, either.

This girl got her spot on the Wall of Shame, although since she was caught that day, we didn't have to wall paper the store in her mug in the hopes that someone who knew her would give us information.  About a month later, she heard through some friends who saw her picture that she was on the Wall of Shame and had the temerity to call up and raise hell about it, because, "I PAID for the ferret!"  Yeah, sweetcheeks, AFTER you got caught.  The fact remains that you stole it, and had no intention of paying for it if the cops hadn't come looking for you.  Don't want the humiliation of your sorority sisters finding out you steal shit?  Here's an idea:  Don't steal.

On June 23rd, SaintTawny took an ID from a girl who wanted to see a tiny blue Chihuahua puppy we had at the store.  There was already someone in the puppy room with a dog, so the girl loitered around in front of the kennel with the puppy in her arms.  SaintTawny got called away from the immediate area to deal with a customer's questions, and the girl with the Chihuahua puppy went around the corner into the dog food aisle, put the puppy in her purse, and walked out of the store.

As soon as I heard, I knew exactly who it was.

This girl had been coming into the store since the day we got the dog, wanting to see the puppy every day.  Every day it was in the middle of the afternoon, when we are slow customer-wise, and when I was working, so I always took her ID and dealt with her.  The first time she saw the puppy, she immediately stuck out in my mind because she had a lot of tattoos and a piercing right under her lip, but the ID she gave me was an Emergency Vehicle Operator's license.  Typically, emergency responders, even the volunteers, are discouraged from having numerous piercings and visible tattoos because it can make people uncomfortable.  Then I figured, eh, she probably takes it out when she's working.  A co-worker at the store is an EMT, and she covers all her tattoos with makeup or clothing and puts a clear place-holder in her tongue piercing when she's working.  But I had stood there and looked at it and looked at her for a long enough pause that she smiled at me and said, "It's real.  It's an Emergency Vehicle Operator's license."  I know what an EVO license looks like, I know a lot of first responders.  I just felt this niggling feeling that something was off.  An EVO license really has no pertinent information on it.  It's literally a picture, a name, and the name of the firehouse or emergency unit that the person works for and that's it.  Nobody had ever given me one as an ID to see a puppy before;  even cops don't pull shit like that when they're not working.  But it is a state issued ID, so I felt stuck by our own rule.  I just said, "Yeah, I know," and gave her the puppy, but I decided to stick around until she was done.

Like I said, this happened every day for a week and a half.  I never really talked to her, that niggling sense that she wasn't right just wouldn't leave me, and in fact increased the more she tried to engage me in conversation, which she did more and more every time she came in.  She practically told me her life story with absolutely no encouragement on my part, I answered her with a forced smile and a monosyllable every time.  She lived right behind the store, she told me.  (I used to live there, too, it's NOT a nice neighborhood.) She usually didn't like little dogs, she has a Boxer.  She really loved this dog, she really wanted this dog, but she didn't have a thousand dollars.  She repeated this over and over the last few times I saw her.  "I LOVE this dog.  I HAVE to have this dog.  But I don't have a thousand dollars."  It irritated me even more.  It was like she was waiting for me to say, "Oh, well in that case, I'll let you have her for.." and name a lower price. After she would leave, though, I would get busy and forget all about her until the next time I saw her.

So on that Thursday morning when I came in and heard the blue Chihuahua got stolen, she was the first person that popped into my head.  The girl who told me said she had given a fake ID to SaintTawny, but when I saw the ID I said, "No, that's real.  That's a real ID.  I've been taking it from her for a week to see the same dog she stole.  That has to be her real name on the ID, call the cops."  The boss man didn't believe me until the EMT co-worker came in for her shift later that afternoon and confirmed that it is, actually, a real state issued ID.  Then, finally, the police were called.

The cops tracked her down, where she gave them a story about how that ID had been stolen from her.  The dog (predictably again) was not in evidence at her residence.  She had also covered all her tattoos with makeup and taken her piercings out the day she stole the dog, so the pictures from our cameras didn't show them, and she had them all visible when the police talked to her.  She had also cut off her mid-back length hair and dyed it an unnatural shade of red, probably within hours of the theft.

I remembered what had happened with the Maltese, which was, in effect, a lot of nothing.  I was not about to let that happen with that sweet little Chihuahua puppy who loved everyone and was a happy cheerful little soul.  I immediately made up a Facebook post with the girl's name included and all pertinent information and sent it out.  I'm not kidding when I say I know a lot of first responders, I come from a very small rural town where the most exciting place to be on any given night was the firehouse.  My high school Bio II class literally emptied every time the town's fire whistle blew.  First responders all tend to run in the same circles, and everyone's theoretically separated by only six degrees right?  Somebody knew this girl.  She had friends, family.  Somebody somewhere knows who she is, and that she suddenly came into the possession of a blue Chihuahua puppy.

Sure enough, within minutes of sending it out, a friend of mine from high school sent me a Facebook chat message.  He knew this girl.  She had been recently married, so her last name was now different.  He gave me the new last name, and we used it on the posters we put up around the store, which included a color copy of the ID with her picture on it.

I Googled her and found her myspace page, which hadn't been updated in months, but had other pictures of her with various hair colors and styles.

Someone else saw the posters in the store and called the store anonymously to tell us that she kept the puppy at her neighbor's house because the police kept randomly showing up at her house.

I kept urging the boss man to tell the guy to tell the tip to the police directly, but the guy didn't want to deal with the police.  So make an anonymous tip via text message, or even on the Internet from the local library if you're that paranoid, I argued.  The boss man wouldn't press the guy though, because he was afraid of scaring him off.

Over the weeks, the guy kept calling the store to keep us up-to-date on what she was doing.  He claimed to be her brother-in-law, and said that he hated her and wanted to see her arrested for stealing the dog.  One week he called and told us that her husband was getting upset that she still had the dog, and was making her get rid of the puppy.  Another week he told us she was trying to sell the puppy for a thousand dollars but she was being super shady about it, not letting anyone who was interested in buying the puppy see the dog before she had the money.  This made me fear very much for the puppy's well being.  Another time he called and said she was going to give herself away because she kept bragging to everyone about how she stole it, and how slick she was claiming that the ID had been stolen and dying her hair.

One evening, the store got a phone call from an agitated woman who told the manager, "If you want your dog, you better come here right now and ID it, because I have it."  I'm not sure of all the details on this bit of drama, but apparently the neighbor who had been keeping the puppy found out that it was stolen and had a fit, as well she should because she could be charged, too.  An argument between the neighbor and the girl who stole the dog ensued in which the police were called, and she called the store trying to give the dog back.  The inventory manager wouldn't let the general manager run out into a bad neighborhood on this errand by herself, so she had to wait for the boss man to get to the store, and when they finally showed up where the girl said she would be, the puppy wasn't there.  A police officer was there, taking the neighbor's statement that she had been keeping the dog, not knowing it was stolen, and that right before the officer showed up, the dog thief sent her husband out, who had a physical fight with the neighbor, got his hands on the dog, and ran off somewhere with her.

We had a dry spell for awhile.  No tips coming in at all.  And the dog thief got wise to the fact that she could be googled and made her myspace profile private, so we couldn't check it every day to see if people she knew made any comments about the theft on her page.

We had two posters about the theft on each of the front doors, and one morning when I came in, I noticed that they were gone.  I was dismayed.  Don't give up on it, I thought.  Don't.  Then I noticed that the corners of the papers were still taped to the doors, like someone had just ripped them off.  Nobody who worked for us would have done that.  As soon as I got in the store, I went to the general manager and asked her, "Did you take the posters off of the door?"  "No."  "Well someone did, because they aren't there anymore."  We gave each other significant looks.  Hmm.  The general manager printed up two more, taped them to each of the front doors, and questioned all the employees about it.

The posters on the doors kept disappearing, and then finally we heard back from our mystery tipper, who called up to tell us that the dog thief's husband was the person ripping them off of the doors.

The general manager promptly printed up about 12 posters, and literally plastered the front doors with them. It was the funniest thing I'd ever seen.  When I pulled up that morning I laughed out loud, a good belly laugh. I thought, Yeah, try to rip all those down without someone noticing you, asshole.  The husband apparently got the message, because the posters remained unmolested afterward.

Of course, customers noticed.  It's hard not to notice the front door of the pet store plastered in the same poster.  For some reason, people kept thinking it was some sort of a joke.  Customers kept asking, "Is this for real?"  No, we get bored and make stuff up like that just to make you ask questions.  Yes it's for real.  Some people who didn't even know the dog thief were offended on her behalf.  "That's not right.  You shouldn't do that."  Well, she shouldn't be stealing dogs.  One offended customer said, "And what if the police see that?"  Um, the officer handling the case already saw them.  He laughed, and said, "Nice posters." So that's what, if the police see that.  Mostly people were just astounded that someone would willingly hand us a state issued ID and then run out with a dog.

Things went on that way for about a month when one day, in the middle of August, one of our regular customers finally got fed up with the state of things.  "Why don't the police just GO over there and GET the dog back?"  He asked.  Good question.  We don't have an answer for you.  "Tell me where she lives, I'll go get it," he said.  So they did.  And fifteen minutes later, he came back with the puppy.

True.  Story.

I couldn't believe it when I heard it either (I was on vacation at the time), but it is entirely true.  He went to her door and banged on it yelling, "GIVE ME MY DOG BACK!" until she did.  Who knew it was that simple?  Here we were trying to do things in cooperation with the police and getting no place fast, and this guy just goes over there and demands the dog and gets her.  Go figure.  According to him, she did put up a bit of resistance, first.  He said he could hear the dog barking in the apartment when he started banging on the door, and after awhile she claimed she didn't have the dog, to which he replied, "BULLSHIT, I HEAR IT IN THERE BARKING!"  She said, "That's not your dog, that's MY dog, that's my Boxer!"  He laughed and said, "LADY, I KNOW WHAT A BOXER SOUNDS LIKE AND THAT AIN'T IT, GIVE ME BACK MY DOG!"  Eventually she unlocked the deadbolt on the door, put the dog down on the floor in front of him, closed the door, and locked it again.  Knowing him, he probably told her he'd stand out there all day and night beating on her door until she gave the dog back, and knowing him he probably would have.  What was she going to do about it, call the police with the dog barking her head off in the background?  Hardly.

When I saw the puppy for the first time, I was absolutely shocked by the condition she was in.  Her fur was coarse, dull and rough, she had scabs all over her, and she was scrawny.  When she came back she was so covered in fleas, and her hair had been bitten off so short from chewing at them, that you could see the fleas just crawling on her.  Ugh.  Poor baby.  A dose of Capstar, a flea bath, ear mite treatment, a couple of wormings and back to a high quality diet.  All this, and the dog thief had been bragging to her acquaintances that she had stolen the dog to "save" her.  If that's your idea of saving dogs, please never do it again.  Leave them all well enough alone, very few dogs would benefit from that version of rescue.

I named her Felony in honor of her ordeal.  Her original price when she was stolen had been 997.00, which is actually three dollars short of a felony charge, lucky for the little dog thief, who was promptly arrested after the statement of the guy who got the dog back from her.  The police officer called us to tell us she had been arrested, and, he added, "She was not very nice to deal with."  I don't know what he was expecting.  I guess you get all kinds as a cop.

Felony stayed with me for about a month before she was fit to be seen again by customers, at which point she was purchased by a woman who had wanted to buy her before she was stolen.  Happy ending for everyone.

I hope this victory encourages them to aggressively pursue the next person who steals a dog, which they hadn't before.  All other cases ended with nobody getting arrested and never getting the dog back, so it took a LOT of encouragement and amateur sleuthing to keep them from a sense of absolute hopelessness about the situation.

It's back to stupid stuff being stolen for now.

Felony, high alert, checks out who's coming through the kennel door.

Felony liked to put all her treasures in bed with her.

Still a happy little soul, she may have been neglected, but
thankfully didn't seem to have been physically abused.

Felony's cage card.  This one was printed out as a price drop
the night she was stolen, and was never used.


  1. man, people are stupid. Its great to hear Felony was recovered and taken to a better home.

  2. The funny thing is, this girl put a lot more thought into stealing a dog than any other dog thief I've heard stories of or been there for in the store, and she was the only one yet to be caught and arrested.

    Of course, this is the first dog theft after we got a totally new security system in the store. She had a hat on so her face was obscured, covered all her tattoos and took her piercings out. Then she cut off her hair after the theft and dyed it red. Told the cop her ID had been stolen.

    He told us when he came back from questioning her the first time that he didn't believe her statement, which is why he kept randomly showing up at her house, hoping to catch her with the dog.

    The thing I don't get is, why didn't he just question the neighbors to begin with? That's where she was for most of the time, and the neighbor who had her had no idea she had been stolen, and thus would have had no reason to hide her or lie to police about why she was there. Would have solved the whole thing on day 1. He must have had his reasons, I'd just love to know what they were.

  3. And yes, Felony was one of the ones who get to me. She would come and squirm in my lap, so happy she just couldn't sit still, and I'd think to myself, "I can take this dog home.."

    But my parrot could have broken her leg. I'd be terrified to have a dog that small in my house.

    I'm really glad the lady who wanted her before she was stolen got her. She comes in the store still and I smile to myself watching her pick out little doggie parkas and other stuff for my Felony girl.

  4. What an ordeal for little Felony!

    That's insane that people steal puppies. Locally, about 5 months ago, a couple stole a huge male pit bull from a shelter. Their faces were caught on security cameras but as far as I know the dog was never recovered. I imagine law enforcement doesn't go out of its way to recover stolen dogs in any medium... which is a shame. Glad Felony had a happy ending!

  5. Oh dear. I hate to think of what someone would want a pit bull badly enough to steal it for. :/

    Yeah, I think cops pretty much just brush off stolen dogs. We have a regular customer, a very nice older gentleman, who has bought two dogs from us, who is a retired state police officer. I'm not sure who he called or what he said, but when he found out about Felony, all of a sudden stuff started happening. He said he made phone calls to express his disappointment in how they had handled themselves with regards to the case. And suddenly, the officer assigned to the case showed up in our store, started returning phone calls with a quickness, and went and arrested our little dog thief on the double. Hooray for sweet old guys who love dogs and used to be police officers!