Puppy back with owner after deputies say 2 men sold it to another family

Reporter: Gina Tomlinson Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:

A puppy is back with its owner this afternoon after Collier County deputies say two teenagers stole a young Labrador retriever and then sold it to another family. That new family realized something was wrong because the puppy already had a chip.

What would you do if you saw a dog without a leash running around at a gas station in the middle of the Everglades?

Collier County Sheriff’s Office says two men stole the puppy and sold it to another family.

“My daughter has been looking for an emotional support animal because she has a lot of anxiety and depression,” Angel Whalen said. “I didn’t even know she was looking, but she surprised me with this black lab in the car.”

A black lab she named, Winnie. Whalen says, like many pets, Winnie, quickly became a family member.

“She was the sweetest dog,” Whalen said. “She was amazing.”

But that love proved too good to be true after a very unexpected phone call.

“They’re claiming the dog was stolen,” Whalen said.

Now, two suspects face charges for stealing the dog from its original owners.

Johnny Moreno, 19, and Mitchell Rusk, 17 are accused of the crime. Whalen says Moreno is the one who sold Winnie.

Photo via Collier County Sheriff’s Office

”My daughter showed me a picture of the dog on a missing pet site,” Whalen said. ”I want to make sure that we’re doing the right thing here. I said, ‘Call the vet.’ They scanned; they found out the dog was chipped.”

Collier County deputies say the dog’s owners had been looking for their pup until someone spotted the lab at a gas station. Investigators say the two suspects were captured on surveillance video driving off with the dog. But Whalen was told the dog was a rescue.

“If you see a small dog in the Everglades with no leash,” Whelen said. “I don’t know if its intentionally stealing.”

But Whalen says she’s thankful the pup is reunited with its owner. Even though, they had a tough time giving the lab up.

”She’s having a hard time,” said. “We bought the dog dress and a bed and lots of toys and such.”

We reached out to CCSO and were told deputies had probable cause to make the suspect arrests for the crime they are accused of committing.

Whalen’s family now hopes to find a new puppy to call their own.

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