A tiny pet's whereabouts spurs big worries

— A How­ell Street wo­man was frantic when she couldn't loc­ate her be­loved mini­ature Chi­hua­hua for days.

North­east wo­man Ju­lie Steiger­wald holds one of her Chi­hua­huas, Bent­ley. Bent­ley was sold withouth her per­mis­sion by a dog sit­ter, who said that the SPCA raided the house and took Bent­lety. After in­vest­ig­at­ing the situ­ation, Ju­lie found out the sit­ter had sold Bent­ley and con­tac­ted the per­son who bought him. The new own­er agreed to re­turn the dog in ex­change for the $75 they spent. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Ju­lie Steiger­wald was up all night after watch­ing a TV news re­port that said al­most two dozen dogs had been con­fis­cated from a home on Ben­ner Street in North­east Phil­adelphia.

In Ju­ly, Steiger­wald had left her be­loved dog, a purebred mini­ature Chi­hua­hua named Bent­ley, for what she said was some tem­por­ary pet-sit­ting. Now, as she watched tele­vi­sion on Sept. 21, she learned that a team from the Pennsylvania SPCA had raided the home where her dog was stay­ing.

“I saw it on the news and I couldn’t sleep,” said Steiger­wald, a re­tired po­lice of­ficer who lives on How­ell Street.

Twenty-one dogs were re­moved from the home of Kristie Mitchell, who was cited for al­legedly run­ning an il­leg­al ken­nel. It was not the first time she had run in­to trouble over an­im­als. In 2009, Mitchell pleaded guilty in Mu­ni­cip­al Court to a sum­mary of­fense of an­im­al cruelty. She was found guilty Oct. 24 of 21 an­im­al cruelty charges.

When Steiger­wald heard about the raid and that Mitchell’s Wissi­nom­ing house had been emp­tied of the dogs, she went to the SPCA on Erie Av­en­ue to ask about her pet. She was told the an­im­al-wel­fare agency had no re­cord of her Bent­ley. 

SPCA spokes­wo­man Wendy Marano said Mitchell had signed all the dogs in her house over to the SPCA, and that the an­im­als had been giv­en to res­cue agen­cies. 

That, of course, didn’t help Steiger­wald. 

Furi­ous and frantic, Steiger­wald called Mitchell and de­man­ded to know what had happened to her dog. She said Mitchell told her that she had be­lieved Steiger­wald had giv­en her the dog per­man­ently and that she, in turn, had giv­en it away. Steiger­wald said Mitchell told her she didn’t know the name or ad­dress of the per­son who had taken 2-1/2-year-old Bent­ley home.

Steiger­wald said she had asked Mitchell to look after her dog for a while be­cause he had star­ted ur­in­at­ing throughout her house and she didn’t want that go­ing on while her preg­nant daugh­ter was stay­ing with her.

Steiger­wald said her sis­ter had re­com­men­ded Mitchell to her as someone who takes care of an­im­als. She had made no fin­an­cial ar­range­ment with Mitchell, she said, and didn’t have any re­ceipts or oth­er pa­per­work that she had put the an­im­al tem­por­ar­ily in Mitchell’s cus­tody.

Not sat­is­fied with Mitchell’s an­swer to her ques­tions about her dog’s where­abouts, Steiger­wald said she went to Mitchell’s house on Sept. 27 and raised a ruck­us out­side.

“I just wanted Bent­ley back,” she said.

Asked for a phone in­ter­view on Oct. 11, a wo­man who iden­ti­fied her­self as Mitchell told a re­port­er to talk to the 15th Po­lice Dis­trict about har­ass­ment and tres­passing by “the crazy lady.” 

Lt. Mark Over­wise of the 15th dis­trict con­firmed of­ficers had been called to Mitchell’s Ben­ner Street home on Sept. 27, but said no ar­rests were made and no cita­tions were is­sued.

Steiger­wald said Mitchell called her to tell her she had sold Bent­ley to an East Falls fam­ily. Steiger­wald said Mitchell told her she would call that fam­ily and ask if it would be OK for her to give Steiger­wald their con­tact in­form­a­tion. She called back and gave her the name of the Dav­is fam­ily and a phone num­ber.

Steiger­wald con­tac­ted Kathy Dav­is to in­quire about her dog, and what she heard gave her pause. Dav­is told Steiger­wald she had giv­en Bent­ley to her 7-year-old son, Chuck­ie, who loved his new pet.

Steiger­wald wasn’t sure what to do. Al­though she wanted her dog re­turned, she felt it would be heart­break­ing to take Bent­ley away from a little boy.

In­ter­viewed on Oct. 11, Dav­is said she had pur­chased the dog for $75 after an­swer­ing an on­line ad­vert­ise­ment in Au­gust. She said Mitchell had called her to tell her that Steiger­wald was look­ing for the dog.

“I felt very bad,” Dav­is said. 

However, she said she didn’t want to keep a pet she felt be­longed to Steiger­wald, so ar­range­ments were made to re­turn him.

On Oct. 6, Steiger­wald re­im­bursed the Dav­is fam­ily, re­trieved her pet and brought him to her Wissi­nom­ing home to re­unite with her daugh­ters, Jam­ie and Jen­nifer, a few oth­er Chi­hua­huas and sev­er­al cats.

“We’re so happy he’s back,” she said Oct. 10 as she hugged her tiny pet. “It’s like he nev­er left.” ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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