PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The owner of a dog daycare and boarding business experienced pure panic this week when a thief stole her van — along with the dogs inside.
Sunni Liston has owned Dogpatch Resort for nearly 20 years. She said it’s more than just a business for her — it’s “an extreme passion and love.”
Liston said they pick up dogs from their owners in downtown Portland along NW 13th Avenue on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Between the Dogpatch’s two vans that each hold 13 kennels, some days there might be more than two dozen dogs running around her play yards in Damascus.
At the end of the day, Liston and her team clean the dogs off and load them back into the vans and take them back to downtown Portland.
But the unthinkable happened when she brought the dogs back to the city on Tuesday.
“I parallel park on the street and people come to me and get their dogs. So I sit in my van for about an hour and as each person comes, I unload the dog,” Liston explained. “One of the first clients came about 10 after 5:00. I walked to the back of the van and got out one of the top kennels, handed her dog and she was starting to walk away and the van started.”
In the minute or so it took Liston to hand that customer her pup, a man had climbed into the driver’s seat and taken off with the van while Liston was standing beside it.
“It took a split second to realize what had happened and I screamed. I can up the side of the van, the driver’s side, and I was pounding — I was trying to get to the door. I was pounding the wall of the van and he ran over my foot,” she said.
Liston said she panicked.
“I was screaming ‘call 911, that van’s stolen, stop them.’ I had no phone, my phone was in the van,” she said. There were 11 dogs in kennels in the van as well as her own dog, Howard, who was loose in the front seat.
But Liston’s stolen cell phone turned out to be her saving grace. Her employees were able to ping the phone’s location, which showed them the van was in a parking lot at SW 13th and Jefferson.
“You would never have seen it from the street,” Liston said of her stolen van. “The amazing girls who work for me called a friend that lives on 13th and Jefferson and said ‘get in your car, you’ve got to find this van.'”
Liston said her employees’ friend found the van and used her own car to block it from exiting the parking lot. In the end, the van was missing for about 40 minutes.
“There were literally hundreds of people — and that’s not an exaggeration — ready to start combing the streets for that van,” Liston said.
As for the thief, Liston said he didn’t stick around. But authorities at the scene found all of the dogs still inside, unharmed. The relief Liston felt was priceless.
“The policeman called me and I could hear the dogs in the background,” she recalled. “I screamed, I was screaming ‘you’ve got them, you’ve got them!’ — it wasn’t like anything you could describe.”
Liston said she’s received an outpouring of support since the ordeal. She said police hope to catch the thief — who also stole the cash in her purse and tried using her credit cards. A witness described the thief as a man who appeared homeless, with “straggly hair” and a blue coat and red backpack, Liston said.
“Apparently dog napping in Oregon is just about as serious as people napping; it’s a very serious crime,” Liston said, adding that police told her on Wednesday that they are actively pursuing the case. She said they plan to put GPS trackers in both vans and use clubs on the steering wheels.