After she spent 35 minutes chasing a dog thief she recognized from Facebook on foot and by car, and after the dog was restored to its owners, whom she does not know, Alyssa Sanderford, who is 34 years old and 5 feet, 3 inches tall, had to tell her boyfriend what had happened:
“I said, ‘Hey, listen, let me just start with I’m OK and I know this isn’t the smartest thing.’ He said, ‘That was the worst start to a story ever, so what did you do?’
“I said, ‘There might be a thing on Facebook about it already posted.’ I kind of left out the part about being barefoot and hopping in a car with a strange couple.
“He got the gist of it. In the end of it, he was proud of me but not happy about the way I went about it.”
Sanderford had seen an appeal the night before on Facebook. Wiley, a 6-year-old, 95-pound chocolate Lab/Chesapeake mix, had disappeared the day before from the bench outside the Trader Joe’s store on Lower Greenville Avenue, where dog owners are encouraged by the store to tie their pets while shopping.
Wiley’s owners, Angela Ream and her husband, Sterling Ream, both 32, were overwhelmed with grief. They spent 24 hours walking door-to-door to houses and businesses, posting fliers and putting up notices on every social media website they could think of. They live five blocks from Trader Joe’s.
It was the second of two Facebook photos of Wiley that brought her home to them, the one with the bright orange collar.
The previous evening Angela Ream had tied Wiley to what the store calls its “dog dock,” the way she always does it — leash unsnapped, the snap looped around a leg of the heavy bench and then back through the hand loop, then snapped again to the dog’s collar. When she came out after a few minutes, Wiley was gone.
A few days later, recalling that horrible moment when she realized the dog was gone, Ream says, “The thing that I kept thinking was, ‘This is my fault. I’m the one who brought her here.’
“It’s not like she got out of the back yard or ran away. I did this. She’s not going to fight someone who takes her. She’s too kind. That was the worst thing, facing the possibility of losing my baby girl combined with the fact that this is no one’s fault but mine.”
Wiley hadn’t come to them the way most dogs do. They were driving on a friend’s ranch in East Texas in her husband’s gray F-150 pickup, his hunting vehicle, when Sterling Ream saw a skinny, patchy, desperate-looking creature in the rear-view mirror, chasing the truck. The next thing he knew it jumped up into the bed of the truck. He said, “Angela, I think a coyote just jumped in my truck.”
For the rest of that weekend the strange, sorely bedraggled beast refused to leave their sides. Now three years and many vet bills later, Wiley is a sleek, plump, sweet-tempered house pet who sleeps in her own teepee in a front room of the house. But when she’s awake she still sticks to their sides like glue.
Then that evening she was gone. Angela Ream had no idea where, but she suspected immediately that Wiley had been stolen.
“She’s the kind of dog that, if she were to get loose or something like that, she’s not going to go anywhere. She might try to go inside Trader Joe’s to find me. The fact that her leash was gone, I really thought someone might have taken her.
“I call Sterling. He’s in the middle of a test. He’s in grad school. He left. He met me at Trader Joe’s.”
The rest of that evening and night is a dark blur except for one clear memory — the kindness of the Dallas police. “The police drove by and saw me hysterically crying,” she says. A police officer took a full report and then called her repeatedly during the night to assure her they were still looking for her dog.
Sanderford doesn’t know the Reams, but they have a mutual friend who had shared Wiley’s missing dog poster on Facebook. The picture of Wiley in her bright orange collar pierced her heart.
“I have a Jeep,” she says, “and I have two dogs myself. I’ll run into Whole Foods just for a second and run out. The thought has crossed my mind that they might be taken but never really, so seeing that on Facebook made me feel really sad.”
The next morning Sanderford had just re-shared the item herself and was driving down Mockingbird Lane when she spotted a dog that looked a whole lot like Wiley wearing a bright orange collar. Standing by a bus stop holding the dog’s leash was a man neatly dressed in blue jeans with his black hair in a ponytail, probably in his late 20s, about 5-foot-9, 160 to 170 pounds, she guesses.
Sanderford looped around on Mockingbird, pulled into a parking lot and got out of the Jeep. “I grabbed my keys and my phone. I left my purse and everything in the car,” she says with a rueful laugh. Her dogs were not with her.
First she walked by the man and looked carefully at the dog to make sure it was Wiley. Assured that it was, she confronted him.
“I probably didn’t do the smartest thing. I just walked up to him and said, ‘That dog’s stolen. You need to give it back.’ He was like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I said, ‘You took that dog last night at Trader Joe’s. Give me the leash.’
“I tried to reach for it. He got pretty angry. I grabbed the leash, and he jerked it out of my hands.”
At that point, it was game-on for Sanderford, who admits that she does not like to lose arguments. “I’m really bad about that,” she says, laughing. “Totally. It comes from being right.”
What ensued was a half-hour foot chase up and down Mockingbird, through the residential neighborhoods behind Mockingbird and back to the commercial strip twice. Sanderford, who trains for triathlons, kept up with the man, whom she describes as fairly fleet of foot, even though she had to take off her flip-flops and run barefoot, carrying the shoes in her hands with her keys and phone.
At one point two men working at a Goodwill drop-off site joined the chase, but they stopped chasing after awhile and warned Sanderford that the man was “talking crazy” and seemed dangerous. She thanked them but kept up the chase herself.
At another point, a couple in an SUV saw her running after the man, pulled up and told her to jump in. She did. Later they left the chase as well, but Sanderford persevered, again on foot and barefoot.
As she ran, Sanderford called the police. Then she saw that one of the Goodwill guys had returned to the chase, this time in his own SUV. He sped ahead of Sanderford. By the time she caught up with him, he had somehow wrested Wiley from the man. Sanderford then found Angela Ream’s number and called her. Ream came racing to the scene.
The police arrived but did not arrest the man, explaining to Ream that it might be difficult to bring charges against him since no one had seen him steal the dog. The man had told police he was homeless and found the dog.
When Wiley spotted Ream, she bounded to her side, licked her face ecstatically and then flopped to her side for a quick nap. Once back home, Wiley drank water thirstily for a long time, then went to sleep for most of a day and night.
A few days later with Wiley at her side looking very much recovered, Ream is still awe-struck by the whole story:
“I don’t even know this girl, and she risked so much to bring our dog home to us. It’s an unbelievable story. It sounds a little silly, but it restores your faith in humanity. For the one bad guy who had her, there were so many people who reached out and cared.”
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And even for that guy, Ream finds sympathy.
“My dad was like, ‘Are you going to press charges?’ I said, ‘No!’ To be honest, I am kind of praying for that guy. I don’t know his motives. If he’s just lonely and wanted a companion, I hope he finds one, his own. If he really needed money that badly, you have to be really desperate to steal a dog.”
Sanderford says that her boyfriend — along with everybody else she knows — told her how crazy it was for her even to confront the man with the dog, let alone chase him for half an hour, let alone barefoot, let alone jumping in cars with strangers. She says she knows they are all totally right about it. She says she hopes she will find a more cautious approach if the situation ever arises again.
She is not very convincing.