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World 'Doggy day-care' owner recounts van theft ordeal

01:15  05 february  2021
01:15  05 february  2021 Source:   bbc.com

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A US business-owner has recounted a terrifying incident in which her "doggy day-care" van was stolen in downtown Portland, Oregon on Tuesday. The vehicle had 12 dogs, including her own pet, inside at the time.

a large brown dog lying on a bed: Sunni's own dog Howard (pictured) was among the pets taken © Sunni Liston Sunni's own dog Howard (pictured) was among the pets taken

Thankfully for Sunni Liston, her employees and other pet owners rallied together to use the internet to safely and quickly track the dogs down.

"I have never felt that sense of panic in my entire life," she told the BBC in a telephone interview on Thursday.

  'Doggy day-care' owner recounts van theft ordeal © BBC

Sunni Liston has always loved dogs. It was love for the animals that prompted her to start a business almost 20 years ago. She and her husband run a "doggy day-care" centre out in rural Clackamas County, Oregon where dogs from across the Portland area can get plenty of fresh air in the great outdoors.

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For years, staff from the centre have picked-up and dropped their furry customers back from the city centre in their "Woofmobile" vans. It was during one of these routine drop-offs on Tuesday that the robbery happened.

Outside the vehicle for less than a minute while giving a woman her dog back, Ms Liston recalled how someone jumped behind the wheel and began driving off with the beloved pets still inside - running over her foot in the process.

a dog sitting on the seat of a car: The dogs were taken in the van, which had © Sunni Liston The dogs were taken in the van, which had "Woof 1" on its registration

"I tried to chase it down the street, you know, limping and hoping I could catch it at a stop sign. But it wasn't stopping," she told the BBC.

With the owners gathering at the pick-up point, Ms Liston had to explain to each that their dogs had been stolen.

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Technology wasn't her strong point, but some of her younger staff and clients realised they could use in-built tracking software on her iPhone still inside the van to locate the stolen animals.

With news spreading quickly on social media about the theft, friends began to help look for the vehicle on GPS in the area it seemed to be heading. "People just mobilised," she recalled about the ordeal.

With years in the industry, she has cared for generations of pets for some of her customers. The welfare of all of them inside was important to her, but Mrs Liston had particular fear for the safety of her Corgi mix rescue dog, Howard, who had been in the front seat.

"I was afraid if he reacted poorly to the person or something that he may hurt my little dog," she said. "And then it came to me quickly that every person there... I realised everybody's heart was in that van."

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a dog lying on the seat of a car: Howard had been sitting in the front of the van, like in this image, at the time © Dogpatch Resort Howard had been sitting in the front of the van, like in this image, at the time

With police called and volunteers on the lookout, the friend of one of her employees managed to track the van down and try to block it in with her own car. It is then thought the perpetrator fled on foot, leaving the van behind.

Thankfully for Ms Liston and the other dog owners, all of the animals were safely recovered - though some of her personal belongings inside were taken.

The BBC approached Portland police for comment. Ms Liston said an officer was looking into surveillance footage and, although no arrests have yet been made, she feels the nature of the crime means it was a carefully planned attempted dog theft.

"I've been at that same spot at the same time of day, for 15 years every day," she said. "We're quite certain because of the speed in which it was done, that it was somebody that had watched what I was doing and cased it out or something. It was done so quickly."

The business owner credited her two young employees, Alesha and Katelynn, for their quick-mindedness in using technology to help track the dogs down.

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"They [the perpetrator] weren't smart enough to throw the phone out. And that saved [the dogs]," she said.

a dog playing in the water: The dog care business had always been a © Dogpatch resort The dog care business had always been a "dream" for the couple

The 60-year-old told the Washington Post that Howard the dog was recovered where she left him about an hour earlier - asleep on the passenger seat. The rest of the dogs were safely returned too.

Two days on, Ms Liston is still feeling shaken-up from the incident but has been overwhelmed by the response from her community.

From gifts to kind words - support has been coming in from across the country. Ms Listen says she has been "humbled" by the compassionate reaction she has received.

Despite an understandable nervousness about returning to her usual route, she has returned to work with her husband by her side.

"All of the people whose dogs were in the van that got stolen made a point of booking for today to show me their support," she said. "They came with flowers and wine and not a single person has pointed a finger at me. Every single person has reached out to me with just love."

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