Two stolen puppies reunited with San Francisco animal shelter following Instagram buy-bust operation
When the kennel manager of Family Dog Rescue arrived for work on Thursday morning, she knew something was wrong. The woman soon realized that three puppies were missing from the Bayview shelter, as well as computer equipment and other electronics.
Panicked, she contacted founder Angela Padilla, who immediately called police and took to social media to share a flyer of the dogs — two four-month-old sister huskies named Levi and Lara, as well as a pit bull puppy named Huey which was just eight weeks old.
An Instagram user noticed the flyer, then later saw an Instagram story post from someone who appeared to be selling the same husky puppies. The user reached out and asked the poster if she was selling the puppies; the woman responded and said she was not personally selling them, but her friend was.
The astute Instagram user wrote back that she was interested in purchasing the puppies being advertised. Then, she quietly reached out to Padilla.
"She told me, 'I think these are your puppies. I already started a conversation about pretending to buy them. Do you want me to continue?'" Padilla said. "Of course, I said, 'Yes, let's see how far we can go to determine their whereabouts.'"
Padilla saw the pictures, and noticed something strange — the photos of the huskies were the exact photos the shelter had used on their social media account.
"They literally stole one of our own pictures and it ended up proving the dogs were stolen," she said, adding that Levi and Lara are easily identifiable because they are woolly huskies, known for their rare fur and unusual markings. The dogs are also microchipped.
Meanwhile, the Instagram user was eventually connected with the man who was actually selling the puppies. Initially, she was told they would be $500 each, but that price was raised to $800. The man told the woman to meet him at a Citibank parking lot in downtown Hayward.
Along with police, she arrived at their planned meet-up spot sometime after 9 p.m. Padilla says the dogs were confiscated, and two men were arrested. She says they were later questioned about the identity of the third accomplice, as well as the whereabouts of the third puppy, which is still missing.
Neither the San Francisco police department nor the Hayward Police Department could immediately comment, though they are aware of the case.
Padilla said surveillance footage at the shelter proved they were the same men, and that there was a third accomplice with them. Three men who matched their descriptions had been at the shelter earlier Thursday.
"Our staff got a weird feeling about them, but we treated them professionally." Padilla said. "They came in asking to see the puppies... they were clearly there to see if we had any valuable purebred breeds."
The shelter is now offering a reward for the safe return of Huey the pit bull, but Padilla is worried they're running out of time.
"If we never get the electronics back, I don't care," she said, her voice shaking. "We just want our dog back. We just pray to get him back."
Huey is undervaccinated because of his age, and has an inflammatory skin disease called demodectic mange that requires ongoing treatment. If under stress and undernourished, Padilla says, Huey could acquire secondary infections and die as a result.
"His health, his life really depends on being found," Padilla said. "We're grateful for the good Samaritan who was brave and willing to help us. We're so lucky to live in a community where people love their dogs, and we hope we can bring our pit bull home too."
The Family Dog Shelter asks that if anyone sees Huey to contact [email protected] or 650-380-8432.
Amanda Bartlett is an SFGate editorial assistant. Email: [email protected]