REDDING, Calif. - After nearly a day of worry, police in Northern California made the happy announcement on Thursday that a stolen white van carrying 15 show dogs headed to the annual “Woofstock Dog Show” in Vallejo had been recovered.
The van owner and dog handler, Tony Carter, told KTVU that the van was found in a gully in south Redding, Calif., just southeast of the Win-River Resort & Casino sometime Thursday morning. The thief had taken off and had left the van on the side of the road with the doors locked, Carter said. Redding police had to break the windows to get the show dogs out. Carter said all the dogs seemed OK; they just had to go to the bathroom. Carter and the dog owners were so desperate, they had offered up to a $30,000 reward for the return of the dogs.
"This is the most horrific, scariest thing ever in my life I've ever come across. So how am I feeling?" asked Carter. " I couldn't be more thankful."
The discovery capped a tumultuous saga for Carter show dog owners.
Carter had left the dogs in the van while he went to get something to eat at an In-N-Out Burger on Dana Drive on Wednesday afternoon. He told the Record Searchlight that he left the van running and unlocked with the air conditioning on to keep the dogs cool.
"Stupid me, because, obviously, I thought, 'It's busy, it's the middle of the day,'" Carter told the paper.
Redding police posted photos of the model of the van, the suspect and some of the dog breeds on Facebook, and by Thursday, the post had more than 22,000 shares.
Lynda Leffel said she is relieved. She had been worried sick since her miniature Australian shepherd, Blaze, had been on the van. She was thankful she'd soon be reunited with her show dog.
"Our dogs are our family. They are family members," Leffel said.
Carter is her friend, she said, and she wasn't willing to get angry at him, although she was miserable.
"Nobody is perfect," she said. "We all make mistakes."
There is no word on whether the recovered dogs will make it to the Woofstock, which is sponsored by the Contra Costa County Kennel Club and the Yosemite Kennel Club, and runs through Sunday.
If anyone has information, they should call Redding police at 530-225-4200.