Surveillance video image via Rockville Police, who say a woman with a cat tattooed on her neck asked to see a Maltese puppy worth $1,000 at a pet store in Rockville, then put the puppy in her purse and left the store. (Courtesy of Rockville Police Department)

The customer inside the pet store seemed like a great fit for the puppy. She asked questions. Enjoyed playing with the dog. Even had a tattoo of a Cheshire cat on her neck, a clear indication she was an animal person.

But when the staff at Just Puppies in Rockville wasn’t looking, police say, the woman slipped the one-pound pooch into her purse and got away, free and clear, with a $1,200 Maltese.

“The puppy was so small, she fit right in,” said Jeanea Tobiasz, manager of the store.

Rockville police described the woman as white with an Eastern European accent, 25 to 30 years old, about 5 feet 7 inches tall and 115 pounds. They released store surveillance video on Thursday, asking for help from anyone who recognized her or is familiar with the tattoo: the outline of a cat on the back of her neck.

“We’re hoping that with such a distinctive tattoo, someone knows who this person is,” said Maj. Tim Marsh of the Rockville police department.

Rockville police suspect the woman in this surveillance video stole a $1,200 Maltese from Just Puppies, a pet store in Rockville. The woman allegedly slipped the dog into her purse. (Courtesy of Rockville City Police/Just Puppies/The Washington Post)

Tobiasz and her colleagues at the store are worried. “Obviously, our concern is for the puppy,” she said. “Is the puppy okay?”

Just Puppies, as its name would indicate, sells just puppies — from a store along Veirs Mill Road in Montgomery County. These are nice dogs. English bulldog puppies there have gone for as much as $3,200. The store’s cheapest current offering is a 3-month-old “Ba-Shar” — a cross-breed between a basset hound and a Shar-Pei — for $199. Employees call him Ronnie.

On April 8, Just Puppies took ownership of the 10-week old Maltese. The staff takes pride in getting to know the puppies and their potential owners, in some cases even declining to make a sale.

The white Maltese at the heart of this case, for instance, would ideally be fed every three hours. She was described as a friendly dog, quick to play with anyone who took her out of her cage. “The puppy has such a great personality,” Tobiasz said.

On April 12, about 4:37 p.m., according to time stamps on surveillance video, the woman with the cat tattoo walked into the store. She struck up a conversation with employees. She looked at the only Maltese, had a discussion with a saleswoman about the risks of hypoglycemia and asked if she could play with the puppy. “She seemed delightful when she was here,” Tobiasz said.

Surveillance video shows her standing in a little stall area, looking around, appearing to bag the dog and — at 5:10 p.m. — walking out of the stall. The woman left the store a short time later, police said.

Just Puppies loses about one dog a year to thieves, some of whom have been caught, Tobiasz said. The store has installed padlocks on its cages, and it appears to have pretty good surveillance cameras. Of late, Tobiasz has been considering asking customers to hand over a driver’s license before being allowed to play with a puppy.

Police say this Maltese was stolen from a pet store in Rockville. The dog was about 2 1/2 months old when this photo was taken. (Courtesy of Just Puppies)

The store manager said she and her staff don’t know whether the woman’s interest in the dog was genuine or whether she was planning to sell it.

Police said much the same. “We have no idea what the motive is — just that the dog is gone,” Marsh said.