Stolen day before, van transporting 14 show dogs located, all animals safely recovered

REDDING — More than 20 hours after a cargo van transporting 14 show dogs was stolen from a Redding fast food restaurant, the van – along with all 14 dogs – was recovered from a wooded area south of Redding. The dogs have since been returned to their owners, but officials say the investigation in identifying and locating man believed to have stolen the van is ongoing.

The dogs – which included Golden Labs, Rat Terriers, Miniature American Shepherds, Rottweilers and others – were being transported from Washington to Vallejo, California for the 10th annual Woofstock Dog Show. The 4 day event started today – minus the 14 recovered dogs – and continues through Sunday at the Solano County Fairgrounds.


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The prior day’s vehicle theft kicked off an extensive ground and air search involving several area law enforcement agencies, as well as countless citizens. By the time officials announced the dogs’ safe recovery earlier today, a Redding PD social media release asking for help locating the stolen van and dogs had been shared more than 26,000 times and received thousands of comments.

Redding PD’s investigation began yesterday about 1:30 p.m., after the van’s driver, dog handler Tony Carter, reported the theft.

Officials are searching for this man they believe may have been responsible for the theft. Redding PD photo

Responding officers learned the Kent, Washington resident  had stopped at In-N-Out Burger on Dana Drive to get lunch, Redding Police Sergeant Levi Solada explained after the theft.

“Carter and the two other passengers went inside to order food and left the vehicle parked, unlocked, and running to keep the air-conditioning on for the dogs,” said Solada.

Carter told officers he had parked the van directly in front of the busy restaurant and that he and his two passengers were only away from the vehicle and dogs for a few minutes.

Carter later told Redding Record Searchlight he had left the van’s engine running to keep the 14 dogs cool in the 85 degree heat.

As the investigation was getting underway, officials obtained security camera footage from the restaurant that showed a white male adult they believe may have been responsible for the theft. Officials are still looking for the person and have asked for the public’s help identifying and locating him.

Despite an extensive search, officials were initially unable to locate the alleged suspect, stolen vehicle, or the purloined pooches.

After learning of the theft, dog handlers, owners, and others quickly raised funds for a $30,000 reward for any information related to the vehicle theft and the return of the stolen dogs.

One of the dogs’ owners, Lynda Leffel – whose grand champion Miniature American Shepherd was inside the van when it was stolen – told Seattle Times, “We just want a safe return of our dogs. That’s all we want.”

“They’re our children,” the Davenport, Washington resident explained before the stolen van and dogs were safely recovered. “They’re our family.”

The morning after the theft at around 10:30 a.m., a citizen reported finding a van matching the stolen vehicle’s description parked in a wooded area about nine miles from where the van had been stolen from.

A CHP aviation crew located the stolen van, after a citizen reported spotting it in a wooded area south of Redding. Redding PD photo

While officers were responding to the area, California Highway Patrol Air Operations Division searched the area and located the stolen van east of Valley View and Canyon Roads and west of SR-273.

“Air 11 was already in the area searching for the van and responded,” said Solada  “Within moments (they) located the van.”

When officers arrived they found the vehicle not running and unattended. “The van was parked in direct sun, locked up tight,” Solada explained. “The dogs were all barking and eager to be rescued.”

Fearing for the dogs’ safety in the heat, officers immediately broke one of the cargo van’s windows to gain access to the distressed animals.

After opening the van, officers found all 14 dogs locked inside individual cages – stacked from floor to ceiling and front to back – inside the vehicle. Although the dogs were uninjured, they were later determined to be suffering from high heart rates from the heat and stress, according to Solada.

“They were thirsty, hungry, and in need of affection, but were otherwise fine,” the Sgt explained.

Officers contacted Haven Humane Society who immediately responded to the scene from their office just two miles away. When they arrived the animal control officers began caring for the dogs; providing them water and checking each one for injuries.

The dogs were taken to Haven Humane “to receive veterinary services, food, water, and loves,” said Solada, who later thanked the animal control officers for their quick response and handling of dogs.

An owner is happily reunited with his dog, who was clearly happy to see him. Shelley Patterson Messer image

Once the dogs were checked out, Haven began reuniting the dogs with Carter and several of the dog’s handlers and owners, some of whom drove or flew to Redding after learning of the theft.

After the safe recovery of the van and dogs, owners and others who had worked together to raise the reward money said they planned on either giving the money to the person who reported finding the van or donating the money to a “dog-related cause.”

Saying his department received “numerous calls from the public” reporting possible sightings of the stolen van, Solada later took the opportunity to thank the public saying, their “vigilance” was invaluable in helping to locate the stolen van and dogs.

Now that the van and dogs have been recovered and returned to their owners, officials have turned their attention to locating the man they say was responsible for the theft and Solada said their investigation is active and ongoing.

Anyone with information about this investigation or who knows the identity of the alleged suspect is encouraged to contact Sgt. Levi Solada at Redding PD’s Investigations Division at (530) 225-4200. Callers can refer to incident file number 18-40292 and can remain anonymous.

Click any image to open full-size gallery.

Shelley Patterson Messer/Facebook video

Shelley Patterson Messer/Facebook video


Contact the writer:

Trevor Montgomery, 46, recently moved to Shasta County from Riverside County and runs Riverside County News Source and Shasta County News Source. Additionally, he writes for several other news organizations, including Riverside County based newspapers, Valley News, The Valley Chronicle and Anza Valley Outlook, as well as Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County and The Mountain Echo in Shasta County.

Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident. (Click here to see segment of Discovery Channel documentary of Trevor’s accident.)

During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations, including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center and Lake Elsinore Station, along with other locations.

Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.

Trevor has been married for more than 27 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and has 13 children and 14 – soon to be 15 – grandchildren.

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