Video shows suspects nab dogs from Detroit animal shelter; search on for 3 after 1 found

'They are my heart and soul. They are my babies. And I want these dogs back.'
Posted at 4:59 PM, Jan 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-11 18:17:01-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — A dog named Willow was found sitting alone and scared in an old garage Wednesday afternoon surrounded by garbage. She was stolen overnight along with three other dogs and spotted late Wednesday afternoon by a stranger who cared to help.

The moment one dog was rescued

"To have one of babies back, I cannot thank that man enough," said Ashely Swistak, who works for the nonprofit dog rescue Make A Difference Rescue.

Willow and the three other dogs were stolen around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday from the rescue's shelter on Detroit's east side.

"They took four out and we don't know know where they are or what's going on with them. Are they hurt?" said Judi Jones, who founded and now serves as director for MADR.

The intruders got in by breaking through a window and once inside, they didn't just steal the dogs, they began using their cellphones to take video of the other dogs. The fear is that the intruders will return in an attempt to steal more dogs at a later date.

Surveillance video captures break-in at animal shelter

"It was strange. They came in, they kind of surveilled everything like they were taking videos of all the exits and all the dogs inside," Jones said.

On the surveillance video, you can see one of the intruders going through paperwork. There's another wearing tan pants with what appears to be a stripe down on the pant legs. The intruders appeared confident, as if they had planned this break-in and which dogs they were going to steal: Willow, Holly, Jackson and Titus, who is sick.

"My Titus, he's a Great Pyrenees. He has an ulcer. He needs medication," said a tearful Jones, fearing what is happening or planned for their dogs that they dedicated themselves to saving.

"They are my heart and soul," Swistak said. "They are my babies. And I want these dogs back. Bring them back."

Wednesday afternoon, volunteers went around the area of Harper and I-94, putting up missing flyers with pictures of the stolen dogs, which also offers a reward for their safe return.

Terrance Leavell, who works in construction in the area, had just seen one of the flyers. He tried to locate the volunteers who were posting the flyers and he called the phone number on it but didn't get an answer.

Leavell then spotted and flagged down a 7 Action News truck. He told reporter Kimberly Craig and photojournalist Matt Dale to follow him.

Leavell drove them to the abandoned garage where Willow was sitting quietly but scared. Craig immediately called Jones, who rushed to the location.

"She's scared to death," said Jones, who pulled Willow out of the garage after being led to her.

Now the search is still on for Titus, Holly and Jackson. Detroit police are involved and urge you to call 911 if you see one of the dogs.

"It's just the unknown. My greatest fear is that they're going to hurt my dogs," Jones said.

She said she also worries the dogs will be used as bait in dogfighting.

"Whatever their reasons, you don't break into a rescue and take a dog because you love animals," Judi said.

Make A Difference Rescue is raising money to increase their security at the shelter, which will include manned, overnight security. Click here if you'd like to help.