By Keith Eddings
---- — METHUEN — A spunky 5-year-old beagle stolen from a shelter was returned yesterday as mysteriously as he disappeared the day before, after igniting an Internet alert across New England, a news media frenzy and an avalanche of outraged Facebook postings and Tweets demanding his return.
“He’s a little overwhelmed, as you can imagine,” said Michael Keiley, director of the adoption center at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Nevins Farm, as he described the theft to a first shift of news hounds who converged on the Broadway shelter yesterday from as far away as Boston to tell Pete’s story. “And he smells like someone put baby powder on him.”
Pete’s return capped a monthlong saga that began when a Minnesota breeder shipped him by plane to a Massachusetts man who responded to an Internet ad offering him for adoption. The adoption lasted eight days, until March 26, when the man dropped him off at the MSPCA.
“He said the dog was kind of nervous,” Keiley said. “He thought he was duped into adopting him.”
Two weeks later, an elderly woman still recovering from the recent death of another beagle she owned came to the shelter looking to adopt. She wanted Pete.
The shelter approved her application and told her she could pick him up Thursday. When she arrived, Keiley went to an outdoor exercise pen to fetch Pete, who was gone.
The shelter immediately posted news of the theft on its Facebook page, along with a photo, which was reposted by about 500 people over the next 24 hours. The shelter alerted Granite State Dog Recovery, a Salem, N.H., organization that maintains what it calls “expert search teams to locate lost or stolen animals” and operates an Internet site monitored by dog lovers across New England.
News organizations around the region also were called and responded in herds.
A volunteer provided Methuen police with the license plate number of a car driven by a man who drew suspicions when he lingered in the shelter without talking to anyone.
Keiley speculated Pete was stolen by someone too cheap to pay the $300 adoption fee (which gets new owners an animal that is spayed and vaccinated and with an identifying microchip embedded in the skin of a shoulder) or who feared he or she wouldn’t be approved for a pet.
“I’m sure he had the right intentions, but he went about it in an incredibly bad way,” Keiley said.
Pete’s return after about 24 hours was discovered by a volunteer who found him in the outdoor pen and walked him into the shelter, asking “Who’s this?”
“We realized right away it was Pete,” Keiley said.
He said he suspects the thief returned Pete after “thinking better of it and realizing it wasn’t the right thing to do,” or simply realized Pete “wasn’t the right dog for him.”
An hour or so after his return yesterday, Keiley led Pete from his pen into a “behavior assessment room” at the shelter on a red leash for a debriefing with reporters and photographers. With characteristic floppy ears and a nose that wouldn’t quit, the 23-pound beast was apparently oblivious to the fuss his disappearance had caused or that his 15 minutes of fame was about to run out.
Active, curious and very nosy, he licked the lens of a camera held by an Eagle-Tribune photographer who was angling for a close up and sniffed at the microphone of a Fox 25 reporter, then let out a few whimpers and turned his attention to a barrel of rawhides by the door.
A half hour later, Pete was gone again, this time to a new life with what Keiley described as “a beagle-experienced family.”