It was a hazy May day in Athens, Ohio, in 2010, when Ohio University alum Jane left the modest apartment she shared with her boyfriend, Shawn, and their roommates. With temperatures in the mid-70s and the seasonal rains that plague the area far behind, it was shaping up to be a good day.
When Jane left to give a tour of Ohio University’s campus, the apartment was full of life and laughter; not only was her boyfriend in high spirits, but their roommate had welcomed her sister Kristina and her sister’s boyfriend, Mark, for a visit. The barks of Shawn and Jane’s playful pup, Grady, filled the air just the same as the heady promise of spring blossoms.
A delightful canine companion, Grady was a rescue who had been abandoned at a young age in a county shelter. The shelter workers assumed his age to be a year and a half, but the Rottweiler and Australian Shepherd mix was closer to six months when Shawn and Jane first set eyes upon him.
Shawn had been at work when Jane had picked out their dog. Not one to let his rough beginnings get him down, Grady was eager for the love and approval of his new parents, allowing Jane to play with him and soliciting love and affection from the start. When Shawn got home, he was greeted with kisses and tail-wags from a dog who had found his permanent and loving home.
Grady had a tail wag for everyone and was afraid of nothing — neither cats nor vacuum cleaners could keep him from exploring the world around him. Even strangers posed no threat. The loving attitude and exuberant disposition may have been the very things that caused Shawn, Jane, and Grady’s world to spiral into a hell that would last for over a week. Jane and Shawn are good friends of mine and I was there by their side every step of the way, which is how I came to know and tell the tale of Grady’s disappearance.
Before leaving the apartment, Jane made sure that Grady was okay. Separation anxiety, a common ailment among former shelter dogs, made it hard to leave the dog alone. In Grady’s case, being left in a confined or small space exacerbated the problem. Jane made sure Kristina and Mark were okay with Grady being out and about in the apartment at large.
When she returned, the apartment was quiet. No tail wags or puppy kisses greeted her at the door. Grady was nowhere to be found. The guests and their cars were also gone. After checking with her roommate and scouring the house, Jane could do nothing but conclude that Grady was gone. As the mild temperatures of the day escalated into a heatwave, so did Jane’s worry.
“Don’t be mad at me. Grady got out,” Kristina’s text confirmed Jane’s worry. The women exchanged information via phone. Kristina recounted the tale of Grady’s alleged escape: She and Mark had been loading the car in preparation of Mark’s 250-mile trek home to Ann Arbor, Michigan. She described Grady’s exit from the home as casual: He thought he was going on a trip with them and walked out the door as they were carrying their bags.
Although Kristina said she tried to grab the dog by the collar, Grady darted out of her reach. Instead of making an attempt to go after him, they continued loading the car with the intent to follow him in the vehicle rather than chase him on foot. When they finally took chase, Grady had disappeared. After driving for seven blocks, Kristina said she got out of the car and walked back, hoping to find him on her trek. Mark continued on to Michigan.
Jane and Shawn had no reason to doubt Kristina’s tale, but some things just didn’t add up.
Kristina had decided not to call Jane or Shawn when Grady escaped, thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal and that she would find him on her trip around town. Fraught with worry and distress, Jane searched the neighborhood and notified Shawn of Grady’s disappearance.
Shawn drove from his place of work to the city shelter to see if Grady had turned up. Jane continued canvassing the neighborhood on foot, calling Grady’s name and inquiring with her neighbors. Shawn and Jane contacted the Athens Police Department and the Humane Society with Grady’s description. They even put the word out to the “Pooch Patrol” segment at the local radio station, which details lost and found pets. Ads were posted to Craigslist, information was put on Facebook. Text messages and tweets followed close behind.
As night fell, the events of the day continued to play out in the couple’s minds. The details just weren’t adding up: Grady’s apparent getaway, Kristina’s unwillingness to go after him or even alert Shawn and Jane of his disappearance until asked, hours later; the fact that Kristina’s boyfriend had come down with her and had left a day early (an unusual occurrence, according to Shawn); and their inability to find nary a trace of the happy pup in town.
Shawn and Jane resumed their search the next day, posting hundreds of fliers and spreading the word with the help of concerned friends and acquaintances. Still, there was no sign of Grady.
After puzzling and reasoning the situation as best they could, Shawn and Jane gathered their wits: Grady hadn’t escaped. He’d been dognapped by the very people they had trusted: Mark and Kristina.
Shawn and Jane hatched a plan: They decided to undertake a nearly eight-hour round-trip journey to rescue their dog for the second time in his short life.
Upon arriving at Mark’s home in Ann Arbor, they saw a dog bowl and leash on the porch. Mark didn’t own a dog, though Kristina had repeatedly said they were planning to get one. Grady was the ideal pup, she’d said; she and Mark wanted a dog just like him.
After contacting the Ann Arbor Police Department, Jane and Shawn set out to confront Mark and retrieve their dog. Capturing the entire ordeal on video, Shawn and Jane returned to the apartment and saw their beloved dog on a leash entering and exiting the apartment several times.
Free of his collar and ID tags and disguised in a bandanna, Grady was masquerading under an assumed name: Bandit. Armed with a stack of papers — adoption records, vet records, license, registration and photographs dating back to his arrival into their family — and accompanied by a police escort, Shawn and Jane confronted Mark. Though he initially denied it, he admitted to taking the dog when provided with proof that “Bandit” really was Grady.
In the three years since his disappearance and rescue, Grady has grown into an adult. The awkward puppy paws no longer outpaced the growth of his body. The endearing behaviors and new puppy smell have worn off. Still as beautiful to his owners as the day they got him, Grady now lives in an undisclosed location, far from the two people who would go to the ends of the earth for him. “We didn’t want him in Athens … because we could see Kristina and others trying to do it again,” Shawn says with a tinge of sadness. Though he misses his dog, he’s content knowing that Grady is still very much a part of his family.
Though provided with ample proof of the plot to steal Grady, the local law enforcement failed to act on the case against Kristina and Mark. Shawn and Jane made repeated attempts to contact them regarding the case and still nothing has come of it.
The sad truth is, countless family pets are stolen every year. Many owners don’t bother to look or ask, thinking their lost animal is easily replaceable. It’s likely that many of those stolen are used for unsavory purposes such as bait for dog fighting or animal testing subjects. Still more are stolen for backyard breeding operations or sold on the black market to make a quick buck.
Ohio ranks among the bottom five states when it comes to the standing of its anti-animal cruelty and animal welfare legislation. Even if Kristina and Mark were called to court for their actions, the sentence they receive would likely be on par with a parking ticket.
While animal welfare groups are working round-the-clock, rallying for the consistent enforcement of laws and the implementation of just penalties for offenders, it doesn’t mean that victims of these crimes should be without recourse. Those who steal animals can and should be held accountable for their actions. For one dog, his owners cared enough to bite back against his kidnappers and find out the truth of his disappearance to bring him back from an uncertain fate. Others aren’t so lucky.
About Caitlin Seida: Owned by three cats and two dogs, she never met an animal she didn’t like. A Jill-of-All-Trades, she splits her workday as a writer, humane society advocate and on-call vet tech. What little free time she has goes into pinup modeling, advocating for self-acceptance, knitting and trying to maintain her haunted house (really!).