August 15, 2012 - For a pet owner, there's only one feeling worse than having a cherished animal go missing and that's the awful fear that their furry little friend has been abducted.
Judy and Pat Vitucci, of Addison Township, believe their dog Hogan was stolen from their property on Aug. 7 around 4:30 p.m. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
Day and night, the owner wonders who took their pet, what was the motivation and will they ever see their animal again safe and sound.
The mind, plagued by uncertainty, creates an agonizing list of possible scenarios as the days go by and the search turns up no leads.
This is the dark place where Addison Township residents Judy and Pat Vitucci are living right now as they wait – and hope – to hear some news about their dog Hogan, who was apparently stolen early last week.
"I've been crying night and day," said Judy, a preschool teacher at Leonard Elementary. She became too choked up to express anymore feelings about the dog she bred and raised from a puppy.
"With that dog gone, my life has been hell," Pat said. "Whoever stole the dog, I hope one day, it happens to you . . . What they're doing to my wife is unbelievable . . . It's driving her crazy. It's driving me crazy. That was her baby . . . She stays on the internet (for) who knows how long, looking for this dog."
Pat noted that "personally," he would rather know that his dog had been "hit by a car and killed" than having "somebody steal my dog and not knowing where he's at."
"That would at least put some closure to this," he said.
The last time the couple saw their German Shepherd – a black-and-red male who's between 7 and 8 months old and weighs about 70 pounds – was around 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 7, which is Judy's birthday. He was on their horse farm near Lake George and Noble roads when he was taken.
A neighbor reported seeing a white van pulling a trailer full of dogs go past where the Vituccis' property adjoins Lake George Road. The van turned around by Leonard Road, drove past their property again at a slower pace, then drove off.
Unfortunately, the neighbor was unable to obtain a license plate number.
"Me and my husband, we were outside," Judy said. "We heard the trailer come by. We heard all different kinds of dogs. It didn't sound like it was a group of hunting dogs (from a local hunt club). There was all this unusual barking and a lot of rattling. It sounded like a bunch of dogs in something that was ready to fall apart."
The first time she heard these strange sounds, she called her six German Shepherds and they all came to her. Judy then went into the house to get some water and apparently, that's when the van/trailer returned.
"When I came back out with the water, my dog was gone," she said. "I have a 140-foot barn that blocks the view of Lake George (Road), so I can't see what's going on. My dog would be the type that if he heard a bunch of barking, he'd go out to see what's going on."
Judy noted her neighbor has a St. Bernard and the dog was outside when the mysterious van/trailer went by.
"I guess they slowed down and he said they started looking at (his) dog," she said. "His wife looked out the window of their farmhouse and started calling their dog in."
Currently, Judy has no leads on Hogan's whereabouts or who took him. The couple has been searching the area and checking various rescue groups, shelters and pounds from Oxford and Lapeer to Rochester Hills and Pontiac ever since Hogan's disappearance. "We go around every day looking for him," Judy said.
"We've been all over looking for him," Pat said. "(Judy's) been on the Polly Ann Trail looking for him on her bike."
Judy noted she's pretty well known in her area and if somebody had found Hogan around there, she would have been contacted.
"Everybody knows me," she said.
After talking to some rescue group volunteers and doing some research on the internet, she's learned that some unknown person (or persons) in a white van has been "working their way north," stealing canines.
"What they've been doing is taking dogs and either reselling them or taking them for research (purposes)," Judy said. "On one of the (web) sites, somebody said they're taking them across the state line . . . I just can't believe someone would go and do that. It's sad."
"I don't believe whoever picked him up (thought he was a stray and) was trying to find a home for him," Pat added. "I think they stole him to sell him or something."
Liz Waters, who cofounded the Ortonville Dog Rescue, is very much aware of the dog thieves to which Judy referred.
"We've been receiving reports and we've seen things on Facebook and Craigslist about this white van. I've been hearing (these stories) for about six months," she said. "It's been seen everywhere from 5 Mile and Levan (roads) in (Livonia) all the way up to Dryden. That would be about the furthest north that we've heard of it."
"When it first started, it was more in areas like Pontiac and toward Detroit," Waters continued. "Then every week, it started moving more and more northbound."
The white van is a consistent part of the stories, but the trailer is not. "Some people say there's a trailer and some people said there hasn't been," Waters said. "No one has gotten the license plate number."
Waters described the dog thieves' modus operandi.
"There's multiple people in the car, usually, and they're trying to coax the dogs to the car. They'll have treats with them," she continued. "They've been known to take dogs (who are) off leashes. There have also been reports of dogs in yards and on chains that have been stolen. So, it's not just dogs that are off of a leash.
"If you're outside with your dog, you really should be diligent about (keeping it) right with you. Keep an eye on them, keep them close to you."
Waters noted they started by stealing "very small dogs," but "now, they're getting very brave and taking big dogs."
Unfortunately, when these thieves steal a dog, it's never seen again by its owners.
"In the six months that I've been following it pretty diligently, I have not heard of one of the dogs being returned," Waters said.
While rescue groups seem to be aware of these dog thieves, law enforcement is not.
"If you call the police . . . they know nothing of this," Pat said. "I asked Oakland County (Sheriff's Department) if they've heard any reports of anybody going around taking dogs in a van pulling a trailer and they said no."
Sheriff's Sgt. Scott Patterson, who commands Oxford's substation, indicated he hasn't heard anything about someone with a van/trailer stealing dogs in this area.
"It's not ringing any bells with us at all," he said. "I'll definitely pass the word along to the guys . . . It's something we can keep an eye out for. But that's the first I've heard of it."
Sheriff's Sgt. Robert Brudvig, who commands Addison's substation, indicated that he too is not aware of anyone stealing dogs around here.
Judy is certain that Hogan is not a runaway. "He didn't just run off," she said. "He never leaves. He didn't just wander off."
Judy noted how her group of dogs usually "stays right together."
"They run like a pack," she said. "When you call them, they all come and they're jumping all around you. (Hogan's) not a wanderer. He never goes off on the road."
Judy described Hogan as a "very friendly" and well-trained dog. "He doesn't walk on a leash; he walks right next to you," she said. "You tell him to lay down and stay, he stays."
The Vituccis are offering a reward for any information that leads to the return of their beloved Hogan. Anyone who knows anything is asked to please call Judy at (248) 496-9833 or Pat at (248) 236-4150.
"I just want my dog back," Judy said.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.