STOLEN FRENCH BULLDOG RETURNED FROM MIAMI TO MARATHON OWNERS

Thanks to the quick work of Monroe County Sheriff and Miami-Dade officers, Sailor is back home with Patti and Mike Rhine. CONTRIBUTED

Thanks to a fast-acting collaboration between the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and the Miami-Dade Police Department, a dog stolen from her home neighborhood in Marathon and taken all the way to Miami is safely back at home.

On July 4, Reinier Fuentes, 33, and Lilianne Dominguez, 26, were arrested on charges of grand theft, dealing in stolen property and use of a two-way communication device to facilitate a felony. The two were booked into jail in Miami-Dade County.

The case began just over a week earlier when Marathon resident Patti Rhine noticed that her husband’s service dog, a French Bulldog named Sailor, had gone missing. Within minutes, Patti began searching her neighborhood, a series of dead-end streets, but Sailor was nowhere to be found.

According to Rhine, she received a call later that night from an individual claiming to have Sailor. After sending Rhine a picture of the dog to confirm Sailor’s identity, Rhine said the caller switched to a service obscuring the incoming number, and his story failed to add up.

Rhine said the caller told her that Sailor was found in Islamorada and claimed the dog was abused. Making claims that he had to spend money on Sailor for medical treatment, Rhine said the caller told her that he “gave her water right away at Wal-Mart as soon as we found her” and that he was hesitant to return the dog, but never offered his name.

“She didn’t run 30 miles,” Rhine told Keys Weekly. “She would have been dead in 15 minutes.”

Enlisting the help of MCSO, which eventually coordinated with the Miami-Dade Police Department, Rhine said she arranged for an exchange with the caller the next day, backed by undercover MCSO officers. 

As a valuable target for dog thefts, French bulldog puppies are frequently sold for up to $3,000. Although Rhine said she informed the caller that Sailor was spayed and would be useless for breeding purposes, she eventually found that the dog’s belly had been shaved in the usual site of the surgical incision for the procedure.

Demanding $1,000 for Sailor’s safe return, Rhine said, the caller changed the location for the exchange several times.

“The guy was really arrogant,” said Rhine. “He goes, ‘You can meet me anywhere. I’ll even go to the police station.’”

Reinier Fuentes, right, and Lilianne Dominguez are detained by Miami-Dade officers for the alleged theft of Sailor. MCSO/Contributed

After failing to arrive at the designated police station for the exchange, Rhine said the callers became more aggressive.

“(Dominguez) started yelling at me,” she said. “They were getting nervous. … She said, ‘Be at Dadeland Mall. You leave right now and you can have your dog. If you don’t, you’ll never see her again.’”

Upon meeting Fuentes, Dominguez and their young daughter at the mall and exchanging marked bills for Sailor, the adult suspects were handcuffed but eventually released by Miami-Dade officers.

“I was shocked when they called me and told me that they were let go,” said Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Although the suspects claimed to have found Sailor in Islamorada, according to Ramsay, MCSO detectives determined using video footage that Dominguez had been in Marathon working for a house cleaning service at the house next to Rhine’s at the time Sailor had gone missing.

“It put them at the crime scene, and not as a good Samaritan trying to pick up a dog who’s running loose,” said Ramsay. Using the information obtained throughout the exchange process and Rhine’s account of her experience, MCSO obtained arrest warrants for Fuentes and Dominguez.

“I can’t speak on behalf of Miami-Dade County, but that crime took place here in Monroe, and they are going to jail,” said Ramsay. 

Within days, the pair were again located and arrested by Miami-Dade officers.

Rhine expressed her extreme gratitude for the work of both agencies, as well as family friends Andrew George and Carolyn Campbell, who accompanied her to Miami and had the foresight to mark the bills eventually used in the exchange.

“MCSO did awesome,” said Rhine. “I can’t say enough nice things about them. … I’m very proud of our Marathon community.” 

“We treated this like someone’s child,” said MCSO Capt. Don Hiller. “That’s how important this is. My guys were pretty relentless, and it was a great outcome.”

“The people that work for the sheriff’s office, they get how important this is, that this is someone’s family member,” said Ramsay. “They’re on weekends and after hours working on this case, so I’m proud of the men and women who dealt with this matter, from patrols to detectives to the administrative portion of this case.

“These type of cases are not uncommon to fall through the cracks, but we set a different tone here. … This will not be tolerated.”

If you would like to have the Weekly delivered to your mailbox or inbox along with our daily news blast, please subscribe here.

Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.