Wiley, the Stolen Dog, Goes Global. When Will She Have Her Own Movie?

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Everywhere from People Magazine to the Danish press, all of the headlines about Alyssa Sanderford’s pursuit of a dog thief through East Dallas three weeks ago seem to focus on the same two things — bravery and bare feet:

Heroic Woman Spends 35 Minutes in Barefoot Chase.” “Barefoot Hero Goes on 35-Minute Chase.” “Barefoot Woman Chases Dog Thief.” “Woman Chasing Hound Through Town Barefoot” (possible bad translation).

And maybe a third thing: “Pretty Girl Chases Down Male Dog Kidnapper.” That one makes me wonder what my own headline would have been had I been the hero. “Ugly Old Man Chases Dog”?

The point is, by now everybody and their dog knows the saga of Wiley, the 6-year-old chocolate Lab/Chesapeake mix stolen three weeks ago from outside a Trader Joe’s store on Lower Greenville in East Dallas. Wiley was rescued the next day by Sanderford, 34, who recognized the dog from Facebook, then chased the man who was holding her leash for 35 minutes before he surrendered.

Since we told you the story three weeks ago, Wiley’s wet muzzle has been all over TV, on the front page of a Danish newspaper and on blogs and Facebook pages all over the world. The only thing left for Wiley now is Wiley, The Movie. Not yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

Wiley’s owner, Angela Ream, 32, and Sanderford did get flown to L.A. last week to tape a TV show about it. The show didn’t pop for a ticket for Wiley, but the topic was definitely Wiley and her uncommon rescue. Perhaps when the show airs, Wiley’s ears will burn.

The Danish newspaper Newsbreak went to the trouble of contacting Ream to verify the facts in my story with her – a step beyond what many publications do in this age of “aggregation” or, as we old school media types call it when other media republish our stories without crediting us, theft.

I only wish I could get a better translation of Newsbreak’s piece about it than what Google can offer: “Next day chasing her dog thief barefoot for 35 minutes, while several local residents help her. In the quest she jumps among others into strangers' cars. And the insanity hunting also gave the paw, and finally came the dog Wiley home, it writes the local media Dallas Observer.”

They spelled our name right. All I need to know.

Sanderford, who chased the man with the dog up and down Mockingbird Lane, says almost all of the reaction she has received to the original story has been positive: “I have received a lot of messages and emails expressing gratitude from dog owners and lovers, you know, that if anything should happen to their dog they would hope that someone might be able to step in for them as well.”

Ream tied Wiley to a “dog dock” as she had many times before, this time to run into the Trader Joe’s grocery store a few blocks from her home and pick up a single item. When she came back out minutes later, the dog had been untied and was gone from view. A desperate search into the wee hours produced not a trace.

Ream posted a photo of Wiley on Facebook. Sanderford, who didn’t know Ream, saw the photo and noted Wiley’s unusual bright orange collar. The next day Sanderford was driving in her Jeep down Mockingbird Lane, a busy six-lane thoroughfare, and spotted what she thought was the same dog, her leash held by a man standing at a bus stop. The man was in his late 20s, neatly dressed in bluejeans, 160 to 170 pounds. Sanderford, a very fit 5 feet 3 inches tall, confronted the man, tried to grab the leash, then chased the man along Mockingbird and through neighborhoods, most of the time racing after him barefoot with her flip-flops in one hand.

Ultimately a man working at a Goodwill drop-off station joined the chase and helped get the dog from the man who had her. Police showed up but declined to arrest the man because he said he had found the dog. No witnesses have come forward to say they saw the man take Wiley.

When I first told you this story two weeks ago, Ream expressed compassion for the man who had the dog, saying perhaps he was lonely for a companion. Since then some other pieces have fallen into place, and now she isn’t so sure how she feels about him. She discovered later that the man had pried off a name-plate attached to Wiley’s collar with Ream’s name, phone number and address on it.

“So he was thinking ahead,” she says.

And she has had plenty of time to second-guess herself on leaving Wiley outside the Trader Joe’s in the first place, even though people do it all the time with dogs on that particular stretch of Greenville Avenue.

“I probably should have been more careful, but she goes with me everywhere. We literally walk the entire neighborhood daily.”

She agrees with Sanderford that most of the response she has received to the story has been supportive. “Lots of people are totally understanding, especially the people who know the area and realize it’s such a dog-friendly few blocks. Establishments really go out of their way to welcome dogs.”

Last week Sanderford and Ream were flown to Los Angeles to tape a six-minute segment of the T.D. Jakes Show. Jakes is pastor of the Potter’s House, a nondenominational mega-church in Dallas. He produces his television show in Los Angeles, where he has also produced movies.

Sanderford says Jakes used the story of Wiley’s rescue to make a point about feeling empathy for people you don’t know. Sanderford told me soon after the chase that Ream’s Facebook post pleading for help had touched her heart because Sanderford has dogs of her own and sometimes leaves them parked in her open Jeep.

“The thought has crossed my mind that they might be taken but never really,” she said, “so seeing that on Facebook made me feel really sad.”

When I first spoke with her, Sanderford explained to me that the thing she recognized first, rather than the dog, was the dog’s bright orange collar. She had noticed the collar on Facebook and thought it unusual.

She was driving in traffic when she spotted it. But the sight of the collar and the similarity of the dog were enough to make her drive to a turn-around and do a U-turn. She then pulled into a busy supermarket parking lot just behind the man, who was holding the dog by a bus stop at the curb.

Leaving her purse in her unlocked Jeep, Sanderford walked to the man, walked past him to get a better look at the dog and the collar and then confronted him, accusing him of stealing the dog. When the man argued with her, she tried to grab the leash, but the man grabbed it back and then ran off through traffic.
Undaunted, Sanderford chased after him, stopping at one point to take off her flip-flops and carry them in one hand, holding her phone and car keys in the other. A crazy chase ensued.

At one point a couple in a car stopped and gave her a lift. At another point, two men manning a Goodwill drop-off truck joined the chase, then peeled off, telling Sanderford the man with the dog was saying crazy things and seemed dangerous. But then one of the Goodwill men showed up again, this time in his own car.

He raced ahead of her. By the time she caught up, the Goodwill man had talked the man into giving up the dog. Police arrived, called by Sanderford, but declined to make an arrest. Sanderford told me she has not heard from the Goodwill men or the couple who gave her a ride during the chase.

The entire saga of Wiley would make a great movie. Ream’s husband, Sterling, named the dog after the cartoon character, Wile E. Coyote. He was driving his pickup on a ranch in East Texas one day three years ago when a scraggly animal he took for a coyote chased him and then leaped into the bed of the truck. That poor beast turned out to be Wiley, abandoned, alone, half-starved and desperate for a home.

Wiley, now a little plump beneath a beautiful coat, has stuck by the Reams’ sides ever since that day when she adopted herself to them in East Texas. That’s what you call back-story.

And now there’s even a weird twist. Sanderford texted me last week, “I swear a saw a woman walking a brown lab with an orange collar this morning. I almost started laughing.”

Ream is sure she got the right dog back.

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