Car thief takes dogs for a ride

It was a grim night for Griff, Seamus, Lincoln, Chloe and Frankie, who spent nearly 18 hours locked in the back of a doggie daycare van after a car thief took it for a spin.

But by Tuesday morning, the five furry friends were back home, celebrating their 7:30 a.m. rescue by a sharp-eyed construction worker who noticed the abandoned van near a construction site at 1225 S. Union Ave.

The van's driver, however, who left the vehicle double parked, running and unlocked while he delivered a sixth pooch to his home in the 100 block of West Hubbard Street  Monday afternoon, was in the doghouse.

"This employee will be terminated," said Jose Varela, owner of the Fetch and Play doggie daycare company, who spent hours Monday driving around Chicago hoping to spot the van after the 2 p.m. theft.
Varela had the unpleasant task Monday of calling the owners of the missing dogs, who range in age from 2 to 11 and are, according to Varela, "very close friends."

There is Griff, a yellow Labrador retriever; Seamus, a black Labrador retriever, who at 11 is the senior of the group; Lincoln the Irish Setter; Chloe the Boxer; and Frankie, a Collie-Labrador mix.

"Calling the owners was the hardest phone call I ever had to make," Varela said today, recounting the ordeal. "It was like dropping off your child at a day care center and getting a call saying your child is missing and (you) don't know if they will ever come home."

Varela said the dog's owners called shelters, put up signs and drove around looking for their pets, fearing the worst.

The dogs however, who spent the night without food or  water, came through the ordeal unharmed and in tail-wagging good spirits, but in desperate need of a patch of grass or a fire hydrant.

Varela could only speculate as to the how they endured the night, but said canine camaraderie probably helped.

"Out of all the dogs that could have ended up in this together, I was glad it was these guys," he said. "They come from the same neighborhood and take the same van ride together everyday. They are very close friends who understand each other."

Their owners have also been understanding, Varela said. Only Chloe's family has decided to pull her out of daycare.

"My clients know how much pride I take in my business and how much I love these animals," he said. "What happened yesterday was an awful mistake."

Police have no suspects in the crime, Chicago Police spokesman Marcel Bright said.