He had a recent photograph of Molly. She had just had her picture taken with Santa. So Officer Patrick Lennon took it with him everywhere he went as he searched the streets of Alexandria for the person who had stolen the little pug.

"I made a promise to the owner that I would get that dog back," Lennon said yesterday. "I walked up and down the streets, talked to neighbors. I spoke to kids on bikes. I showed them her picture."

Finally, after conducting a thorough search, running down numerous leads, even checking out several pugs that matched her description, Lennon finally found Molly -- and collared her captor, police say.

"It was a very traumatic and stressful situation," Molly's owner, Rachel Ganslaw, 27, said yesterday. "She's just a poor little pup. She's a great dog. We're really grateful to the community, and especially Officer Lennon."

The 1-year-old dog was stolen from a blue Jeep Grand Cherokee on Saturday afternoon when the driver -- her dog sitter -- stopped at the scene of an accident on East Glebe Road to see whether he could help out.

Evan Lese, a former emergency medical technician, rushed to tend to an injured child until rescue vehicles could get there. First, though, he made sure that Molly was secured with her leash to the console in his car and that the doors were shut. He was in charge of her while his neighbors were out of town.

They had had a long but fun day at PetsMart in the Potomac Yard shopping center, where Lese was helping out with a charity rescue event for chows. "She had a blast with all the other dogs," he said.

At the accident scene, rescue vehicles arrived quickly, and Lese was back to the car in no time. But Molly was gone. "I came back, and her leash was there, but she was gone," said Lese, 37. "Who would want to steal a dog?"

Lennon, who had responded to the accident, joined the search for Molly, a dead ringer for the pug in the "Men in Black" movies.

The Alexandria police officer continued to search the neighborhood the next day as word of Molly's plight began to spread through the community.

Suddenly, there were pug sightings everywhere, and Lennon went from home to home, taking the Santa picture with him. There were remarkable similarities. But none of the pugs was the one Lennon was searching for.

Then, early Monday, it looked as if Lennon might finally have a break in the case. "I got information from some officers from informants," he said.

The tips led Lennon to a residence in Alexandria, where he found Molly hidden in a bedroom. He charged Pamela Calloway, 29, with grand larceny of a dog. In Virginia, stealing a dog is a felony.

Molly may not look it, but she's one happy pug.

"She was very excited to see her mom and dad," said Lennon, who has been dubbed "Ace Ventura, pet detective," around police headquarters. "It was great to give that dog back to that couple."

Molly, a 1-year-old pug, had her picture taken with Santa at PetsMart shortly before her abduction.