When Sailor the French bulldog disappeared from a Florida Keys home, her family quickly spread the word.
“Please be on the lookout for this sweet girl,” Patti Rhine posted about 18-month-old Sailor on a Facebook group on June 25. “I’m sure she’ll be thirsty! REWARD!”
But later that night, Rhine got a phone call from a blocked number. In an instant, she knew that the compact bulldog — her Marine veteran husband’s service dog — wasn’t wandering the streets.
The caller had her phone number, which she hadn’t posted online but printed on the tag of Sailor’s collar.
Sailor had been dognapped — and the dognappers wanted $1,000 in exchange for her safe return.
Where is Sailor?
The dognapping ordeal for the Rhine family lasted 24 hours.
At about 1 p.m. June 25, Rhine let Sailor outside to do her business, typically a five-minute duty.
“She never runs anywhere,” Rhine said. “We saw her on camera as she walked down to the end of the street to go potty and she never came back.”
Then came the kidnappers’ threats over the phone. If they didn’t get the cash, they said Rhine would never see Sailor again.
“Then they started playing mental games,” Rhine said Tuesday in an interview with the Miami Herald/FLKeysNews.com. “They were horrible.”
Rhine, who had already advertised a $500 reward, told them she would pay any price to get Sailor back.
She agreed to meet them the next day. She just wanted Sailor home. “My kids are grown,” Rhine said.
She also called the sheriff’s office.
She said that even after setting up a meeting, they said they wanted to keep Sailor, and then changed their minds and negotiated the ransom. They kept changing meeting locations in Miami-Dade, too.
In the end, they told Rhine to go to Dadeland Mall in Kendall, and gave her five minutes to get there.
‘I’m going to get my dog’
But more people than just Sailor’s mom showed up at the mall.
Rhine went to the undercover meeting, driving up the Keys on the Overseas Highway with Monroe County sheriff’s detectives on the road behind her.
After speaking with Keys detectives, Miami-Dade police officers went to Dadeland to catch the dognappers and save Sailor.
The dognappers were in a white Chevy pickup outside a Cheesecake Factory restaurant.
Police planned to have a female undercover officer pose as Rhine and approach the couple to make the exchange. But when the undercover cop didn’t show, Rhine said she’d had enough waiting.
“I’m going to get my dog,” she thought. “They were just extorting me. I’m not a confrontational person.”
The couple ordered Rhine to walk up to them with cash in hand and warned her that they’d take off if anything looked suspicious. One of the dognappers tore the money out of her hand and gave her Sailor in exchange. Within seconds, the couple were surrounded by police officers.
“My husband is not happy with me,” Rhine said.
Later, the police told her that the dognapper had a gun on his hip.
Reinier Fuentes, 33, and Lilianne Dominguez, 26, were arrested in the dognapping caper, according to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. They were detained at Dadeland last week, but taken to Miami-Dade jail on Monday and face felony charges, including grand theft and dealing in stolen property, said Adam Linhardt, the sheriff’s office spokesman. They are now free on bond.
Dominguez had been cleaning a short-term rental across from Rhine’s home in Marathon the day Sailor disappeared, Rhine said.
“Monroe County Sheriff’s Office put it all together,” she said.
The biggest relief for Rhine? The safe return of the family French bulldog.
Stealing dogs to breed
Rhine said Sailor is just one in a growing list of French bulldogs being snatched either for their value or for breeding by the thieves.
Frenchies, famous for their stand-up ears, short, stocky stature and big personalities, are one of the most expensive dogs to buy from a breeder, easily fetching several thousand each just to start.
“They’re stealing them to get puppies,” Rhine said.
When she retrieved Sailor, she noticed the dog’s belly had been shaved to reveal a scar from her being spayed.
Once they realized they couldn’t use Sailor to breed, “they realized she’s of no value and just decided, ‘Well I’ll call the owner,’ ” she said.
“MCSO told her, we’re treating this as if it were your kid!” Rhine’s friend Kelly Vaughn wrote on Facebook, praising the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office for tracking down Sailor and making the arrests.
It was not clear Tuesday whether either Fuentes or Dominguez had legal representation.
Sailor, however, was back home safe, although she did poop hot dogs after her return — evidence that her kidnappers had fed her.
“She’s happy to be home,” Rhine said. “She was pretty traumatized.”