When Sailor the French bulldog disappeared from a home in Florida Keys, her family quickly dispersed it.
“Please be on the lookout for this sweet girl,” Patti Rhine posted about 18-month-old Sailor on a Facebook group on June 25. “I’m sure she’ll be thirsty! REWARD!”
But later that night, Rhine got a call from a blocked number. In an instant, she knew the compact bulldog—her Marine veteran’s service dog—wasn’t roaming the streets.
The caller had her phone number, which she didn’t put online, but printed it on the label on Sailor’s collar.
Sailor had been kidnapped – and the dognappers wanted $1,000 in exchange for her safe return.
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The dognapping ordeal for the Rhine family lasted 24 hours.
At about 1:00 p.m. on June 25, Rhine left Sailor out to conduct her business, usually a five-minute shift.
“She never runs anywhere,” Rhine said. “We saw her on camera as she walked to the end of the street to go potty and she never came back.”
Then the threats from the kidnappers came over the phone. If they didn’t get the money, they said Rhine would never see Sailor again.
“That’s when they started playing mental games,” Rhine said in an interview with the Miami Herald/FLKeysNews.com on Tuesday. “They were terrible.”
Rhine, who had already announced a $500 reward, told them she would pay any price to get Sailor back.
She agreed to meet them the next day. She just wanted Sailor to come home. “My kids are grown,” Rhine said.
She also called the sheriff’s office.
She said that even after they arranged a meeting, they said they wanted to keep Sailor, then changed their mind and negotiated the ransom. In Miami-Dade, too, they kept changing meeting locations.
Finally, they told Rhine to go to Dadeland Mall in Kendall, and they gave her five minutes to get there.
‘I’m going to get my dog’
But more people than just Sailor’s mother came to the mall.
Rhine went to the undercover meeting and drove up the Keys on the Overseas Highway with the Monroe County detectives on the road behind her.
After speaking with the Keys detectives, Miami-Dade police officers headed to Dadeland to capture the dognappers and rescue Sailor.
The dognappers were in a white Chevy pickup in front of a Cheesecake Factory restaurant.
The police planned to have a female undercover officer pose as Rhine and approach the couple to make the exchange. But when the undercover cop didn’t show up, Rhine said she’d waited enough.
“I’m going to get my dog,” she thought. “They were just blackmailing me. I’m not a confrontational person.”
The couple ordered Rhine to walk over to them with cash in hand, warning her they would leave if anything appeared suspicious. One of the dognappers snatched the money from her hand and gave her Sailor in return. Within seconds, the couple was surrounded by police officers.
“My husband isn’t happy with me,” Rhine said.
Police later told her that the dognapper had a gun on his hip.
According to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, Reinier Fuentes, 33, and Lilianne Dominguez, 26, were arrested in the dog grooming business. They were held in Dadeland last week but were taken to the Miami-Dade Jail on Monday and charged with felony charges, including grand larceny and dealing stolen goods, said Adam Linhardt, the spokesman for the sheriff’s office. They are now free on bond.
Dominguez was cleaning a rented house across from Rhine’s house in Marathon the day Sailor disappeared.
“The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office made it all happen,” she said.
The greatest relief for the Rhine? The safe return of the French bulldog family.
Stealing dogs to breed
Rhine said Sailor is just one in a growing list of French bulldogs are being snatched for their value or for breeding by the thieves.
Famous for their erect ears, short, stocky stature and large personalities, Frenchies are one of the most expensive dogs to buy from a breeder, quickly fetching several thousand to start.
“They steal them to have puppies,” Rhine said.
When she picked up Sailor, she noticed that the dog’s abdomen had been shaved to reveal a scar from her spaying.
When they realized they couldn’t use Sailor for breeding, “they realized she had no value and just decided, ‘Well, I’ll call the owner,'” she said.
“MCSO told her, we’re treating this like it’s your kid!” Rhine’s friend Kelly Vaughn wrote on Facebook, praising the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office for tracking down Sailor and making the arrests.
It was not clear Tuesday whether Fuentes or Dominguez had legal representation.
Sailor, however, was safe at home, though she pooped hot dogs upon her return—evidence that her captors had fed her.
“She’s glad she’s home,” Rhine said. “She was quite traumatized.”