Patients and staff at the Sarah House hospice in downtown Santa Barbara were the victims of a dognapping ordeal this week when their house dog was stolen from the facility and returned two days later.
Sarah, the house dog, was stolen from the property this past Saturday. After days of searching and public pleas for the return of Sarah to her home, house management received word on Monday night that their 3-year-old beagle/dachshund mix was found by animal control officers.
Sarah House Residential Manager Debbie McQuade said she first noticed that their dog had gone missing late Saturday afternoon, after several house residents claimed to have witnessed the abduction.
McQuade said residents were watching Sarah run around the garden when they saw a woman and a man walking to their truck on Las Positas Road outside the facility with the dog in tow.
“At the time, it just didn’t occur to anyone that the dog was being stolen,” McQuade said. “People just thought it was [one of the patients] going to show the dog to his grandchildren. After a few minutes we realized Sarah had been dognapped. The house was in an uproar.”
McQuade said all of the residents of the house came together to try to figure out what had happened, and that she herself followed some promising leads and did a bit of detective work of her own.
“We skulked about a local bar where we thought we saw [the truck] parked,” she said.
On Monday, by which time her investigations had yielded no results, McQuade called the Santa Barbara News-Press, and the paper ran a story about the missing dog the next day. Within 10 hours of the story hitting the stands, McQuade said she received a call from the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter on Overpass Road – the shelter staff had picked up a pooch matching Sarah’s description earlier that day around Gutierrez Street.
When she returned from the shelter with Sarah, McQuade said the patients were surprised and elated at the arrival of their beloved pet. A film crew, which was at the facility shooting interviews with the patients, was present to capture the surprise reunion.
McQuade said she believes that whoever took the dog got scared when they saw the story published in the News-Press, and dropped her off for someone to find her.
“We suspected all along that it was someone who knew us and who had loved the dog enough to want to take it,” she said. ” It was a consolation to know that she probably wasn’t being abused.”
Aside from the $50 fee she paid to retrieve Sarah from the shelter, McQuade said she was satisfied with the outcome of the experience and grateful for the community support Sarah House received.
“The money doesn’t really matter,” she said. “We are just so happy to have her back.”
One positive thing that came out of the dognapping ordeal, McQuade said, was its cathartic influence over some of Sarah House’s low-income, terminally ill patients.
“Some of our residents were lifted out of deep and profound concerns for their own situations,” she said. “It gave everyone something to think about outside of themselves.”