When Jeanine Nesvik, a resident of Chandler, Arizona, returned home, she was heartbroken to discover that someone had stolen her four dogs and seven rescue foster dogs. Despite nothing else in the home being taken, to Jeanine, nothing else mattered, but the safety of her dogs. “My dogs are my family — it was shocking and painful that anyone would do such a cruel thing,” she said, adding that the criminals did not steal six other rescued dogs she was fostering in her home at the time.
The Police told Nesvik that a white van had been spotted in the alley behind her home the day of the incident, March 23rd, 2022. Additionally, they believed that whoever stole the dogs likely knew Nesvik and entered the property through the back gate. No other information was known. “It was so upsetting,” said Nesvik, 38, explaining that one of the stolen dogs is blind, others had various medical issues and two of them just were 8-week-old puppies. “Everyone who knows me knows how much I love my dogs.” Jeanine was particularly worried for her Belgian Malinois Shepherd, Leah, who had been trained to work as a Therapy Dog for young children with autism. Leah would go to work with Nesvik, who was a children’s speech pathologist at the Watch Me Grow Pediatric Therapy Clinic in Gilbert, Arizona.
The news of the stolen pups was shared throughout the community, in hope that someone knew something about the possible location of the dogs. “It was shocking that something like this could happen, and everyone was thinking, ‘What if those were my dogs?", said Debbie Varner, founder of Follow Your Heart Animal Rescue in Chandler. Jeanine has fostered around 100 dogs in the five years that she and Debbie knew each other, and Varner wanted to do anything she could to help find the dogs. Varner posted on Facebook and asked for donations to help in the search. $20,000 dollars were raised and more and more dog-lovers joined the cause.
Sheri Goodwin spent hours searching dog sites and printed thousands of flyers. “I’m a lot like Jeanine in that I take in dogs and help them to change bad behaviors so they can get adopted,” said Goodwin. “We’re not animal hoarders — we’re helping to save dogs and get them into good homes,” she added. Jody and Mark Pectol, owners of Zzeeks Pizza and Wings, placed flyers for the lost dogs on every order to leave the shop. “We weren’t sure it would work,” said Mark Pectol. “But we knew for a fact that the only thing that wouldn’t work was to do nothing. We thought it was important to get the word out.”
In April, the hard work began to produce results. Four dogs were left at a dog park in Mesa, eight miles from Chandler, and another four were found at a dog park in Gilbert. “Nobody saw who dumped them there, but so many people knew about my story that people were calling within 20 minutes,” said Nesvik. She quickly raced to each park, collected the pups, and took them straight to the vet. They were malnourished and emotionally traumatized. Her one-year-old Aussie Hound mix, Seven, needed immediate treatment for broken teeth and dehydration. “All of them were smelly and covered in feces and urine and it was obvious they’d been kept locked in cages,” she said. “They were also suddenly afraid of men. It broke my heart.”
They began to respond to Jeanine's care, gradually getting better. Nevertheless, she still worried about Leah and the two remaining foster puppies. Finally, on June 17, a call came in from the microchip company that Nesvik uses. Leah was found wandering around a baseball field by a police officer more than two hours away. “Two male officers tried to get to her, but she wouldn’t go near them,” said Nesvik. “As soon as I saw it was really Leah, I started bawling,” said Nesvik. “She literally melted into me to give me a hug. ‘Good girl, good girl,’ I told her over and over.”
Nesvik does not have much hope in finding the remaining puppies as she believes they have already been sold. “I feel extremely fortunate to have most of my dog family back,” she said. “I don’t think it would have happened without so much love and support from the community.” She now has a security camera set up around her home, and can sleep easy knowing her dogs are safe at home.
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