News

Happy reunion for dogs, owners after stolen dog-walker's van found

By Terry Davidson, Toronto Sun

TORONTO - 

Toronto’s Sheila O’Toole got her little Agnes back.

The eight-year-old Shih Tzu-Japanese Chin mix is one of 16 pet canines that went missing after a dog walker’s panel van was stolen in the Fort York Blvd. and Bathurst St. area around 11 a.m. Friday.

A search by Toronto Police — and a desperate one conducted by the dogs’ owners, as well — commenced almost immediately and went on throughout the harrowing day and evening.

Then, around 8 p.m., the van — with dogs inside, safe and sound — was spotted by three rail workers as it sat at the rear of a Queens Quay E. industrial building.

“They just found them, I can’t believe it!” an excited O’Toole said shortly after hearing the news. “The police were looking downtown while we’re looking in the outskirts of downtown (and) I burst into tears. We were screaming!”

Some owners showed up to the van scene to pick up their furry loved ones, while others went to 14 Division.

It was difficult to tell who was happier, man or man’s best friend.

Lindsey Peacock and husband Adam Woodhouse were happily reunited with their pal Charlie, an 18-month-old Husky mix.

“This is the best possible outcome, having all the dogs safe and sound, returned to us,” Peacock said. “It has been a very painful (day).”

Jake Steinman, co-owner of Soulmutts Toronto, said his clients had been concerned for the safety of their pets.

“Basically, this is the equivalent of kidnapping. For a lot of these owners, these are their babies,” he said earlier in the day.

The van was swiped when a staff member went to pick up a dog in a condo building near Fort York and Bathurst St., Steinman said.

Toronto Police had told Soulmutts that three other white cargo vans were taken in the area on Friday and it appears the company wasn’t targeted.

Police said the brazen bandit jumped into the vehicle when the driver momentarily turned away.

He is described as white with wavy blonde hair, 6-feet tall and 200 pounds. He was carrying a pink Ardene shopping bag at the time of the robbery.

Rail worker Joe Farrugia, 54, had spotted the van earlier in the evening and returned to investigate with co-workers Jaime Teran, 52, and Tom Reith, 35.

“We had heard about the dogs being stolen and we were talking,” Farrugia said. “I said I had seen a van at 200 Queens Quay (East), just sitting there.”

Farrugia said he and his mates went back to the spot and called the cops, who opened the van’s doors to reveal the animals.

“Dogs are like part of the family,” said Farrugia, who owns a Shih Tzu-Bichon mix. Teran owns a Shih Tzu. Reith is allergic.

— With files from Canadian Press

tdavidson@postmedia.com