Three members of a Fairfax County family were behind bars yesterday, each charged with stealing Eunice, a 3-year-old basset hound, in a daytime heist from Alexandria's animal shelter, police said.
An animal control officer said he saw a green getaway van speed from the shelter about 3 p.m. Thursday and jotted the license plate number on his hand. About an hour after Eunice was stolen, an off-duty Alexandria police officer approached a vehicle matching the description he'd heard broadcast over his police radio and found Eunice safe inside.
"There was a guy sitting in the back with a basset hound on his lap," Sgt. John Zook recalled yesterday. "I said, "Hey, that's a nice-looking dog you've got there.' "
"It's a beagle," said one of the three men in the van.
Charged with grand larceny of an animal, a felony in Virginia that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail, were Marshall B. Whitaker Jr., 54, of the 6600 block of Oak Drive; his brother Esmond Whitaker, 52, and Esmond's son, Brent M. Whitaker, 26, both of the 3400 block of Elmwood Drive. They were being held at the city jail in lieu of $1,000 cash bonds.
Animal shelter officials said one of the suspects let Eunice out of her kennel and brought her around to the front of the building, where another of the men was waiting. The third man stayed in the van.
Tara Blot, the shelter's acting director, said the two men had been acting strangely when they came into the new Vola Lawson Animal Shelter, named for the former city manager, and they appeared to have been drinking. The shelter requires a fee and screening before someone is allowed to adopt an animal.
One of the men came back into the shelter and began rummaging through the leashes, when the animal control officer said, "Hey, where did the dog go [that] you had a minute ago?" Blot said.
"Then they squealed out of the parking lot."
Zook was exercising the police department's black Labrador bomb dog, "Bear," when he spotted the van stopped on Mill Road and saw two men switching seats.
"I couldn't believe it was happening again," said Amy Bertsch, a police spokeswoman, who at that moment was across town reenacting the dognapping four months ago of a pug named Molly for some students at an elementary school.
Eunice is doing fine, but she needs a home, Blot said.
An experienced owner or a house with teenagers would suit her temperament, she said.
"She seemed a bit traumatized," Blot said. "She was shaking a lot, and she was quiet, which is unusual for her.
"She's very vocal. She likes to tell you what she's thinking.
"It's just unbelievable that somebody would come in and do something like that in the middle of the day."