D.C. police officer Elysia Branson parked her blue-striped K-9 cruiser at 10th Street and South Carolina Avenue SE in the predawn hours Saturday and got out to do a follow-up on a burglary report, leaving her K-9 Corps German shepherd, Jake, caged in the back seat.

When she returned minutes later, at 3:50 a.m., both the car and the dog were gone, police later reported. Branson put in a stolen auto call, police said. Four hours and 25 minutes later, car and dog were found undamaged and uninjured less than a mile away in an alley off the 1200 block of F Street NE, police said. No arrests were made.

According to a police report on the incident, Branson left the key in the car's ignition, apparently prompting a passer-by to jump into the cruiser and take off.

"It's not uncommon for K-9 officers to leave their engines running with the air conditioner on for the sake of the dog while they're out of the car," said First District Sgt. Donald Wallace yesterday. The dog in the car "gives the officer a false sense of security," he said, but since the dog is caged, all it can do to a potential auto thief is "raise hell in his ear."

It was not clear from the report whether the engine of Branson's cruiser was on at the time of the incident. Branson could not be reached for comment yesterday.