BRITISH COLUMBIA

RCMP find two dogs that were stolen in Vancouver along with truck

02/06/2013 03:53 EST | Updated 04/08/2013 05:12 EDT
VANCOUVER - As news spread that a thief had made off with a truck belonging to a Vancouver dog-walking business, prompting a frantic search for the two animals still inside, company owner Amy Villis was willing to take just about any help she could get.

So when a "pet psychic" sent an email claiming the dogs were still with the truck somewhere on the eastside of Vancouver, Villis thought it couldn't hurt to check it out.

"It was something," Villis recalled Wednesday, soon after the dogs were located — unhurt and, as it turns out, nowhere near east Vancouver.

"She was reaching out and it was lovely of her to do it."

The RCMP said someone spotted the abandoned truck in Agassiz, more than 100 kilometres east of Vancouver, on Wednesday morning. The pair of dogs were still in the truck, cold and wet but otherwise OK.

A day earlier, an employee with Creature Comforts Pet Care Services was dropping off a pet at a client's house when she saw someone hop in the truck, which still had the keys in the ignition. The worker attempted to block the thief's path, but the suspect sped away.

There were four dogs in the truck at the time, including two belonging to clients, the employee's dog and Villis's own pet, a flat coat retriever named Friday.

Two of the dogs — Punk the Australian shepherd-heeler cross and Harley the miniature schnauzer — were later found several blocks away. But two others that were in the back of the covered pickup truck — Friday and a spaniel-basset hound cross named Harriet — remained missing.

Villis sounded the alarm, blanketing social media and traditional news outlets with pleas for help and for the thief to return the dogs, no questions asked.

Tips came in through email and phone, while photos of the dogs spread on Twitter, Facebook and other social media websites such as Reddit. Complete strangers offered to scour the city calling out the dogs' names.

Villis said she followed up on as many tips as she could and spent a sleepless night driving around looking for the missing animals.

"It was a needle in a haystack," she said.

"It's the worst-case scenario — there's nothing worse. I was hoping (the thief) would just think, 'Oh, there's a bunch of dogs in here,' and pull over and ditch the truck or just let the dogs out."

Villis was at home in Vancouver wrapping up yet another interview with a TV news crew when she received a call from police telling her the dogs were safe.

"It's amazing," said Villis.

"You take away hope from someone when they think something has really gone wrong, and it really is a horrible thing to take away. But the outpouring of help and consideration from total strangers — I didn't realize this many people would step up and say, 'I'm on it.'"

The RCMP said police received a call about an abandoned truck on a tree farm in Agassiz, about a 90-minute drive from where the truck was stolen.

The dogs were taken to a veterinarian for a checkup and then held at the local RCMP detachment while Villis and the other dog's owner drove out to pick up their pets, said Cpl. Tammy Hollingsworth.

Hollingsworth said the truck was towed away, and investigators planned to conduct a forensic examination of the vehicle.

"Hopefully, we'll get some prints and find the person responsible for stealing the vehicle and the dogs," she said.

"It's just a great ending to a story that could have had a different ending."