Donna Lowe hasn’t watched the surveillance video that shows two thieves stuffing her 15-year-old dog into a bag and disappearing into the night.
She can’t. She won’t. She never will. Her heart would break in two.
Tiki, a Chihuahua and rat terrier mix, has been by Lowe’s side through divorce and raising her four sons. She’s shared the family’s pain and joys. Her dedication to Lowe never waived.
“She goes everywhere with me. When I go to Starbucks she gets a puppaccino. She’s gone to work with me. All of my kids’ friends know her,” Lowe said. “She’s dried more of my tears than anyone in the world but she’s also celebrated so many wonderful things with me.”
Last weekend Lowe, of Fairhope, dropped Tiki off for the first time at a boarding facility, The Puppy Den in Daphne. Before dawn Saturday, thieves smashed in all the windows of the business and snatched three, eight-week-old Maltipoo puppies and Tiki.
The other dogs there tried to protect them. Surveillance video shows Lowe’s other dog, Thor, a shih tzu, bite the thieves as they snatched the pups. The joy of a holiday weekend visit with far-flung family was shattered when she received an early morning call to say that Tiki, was gone.
“When you have a senior dog and you go to the vet you are happy to get out of there with not too much bad news but you always know in the back of your mind you may hear some dreaded words. This was so much more devastating. This was so abrupt,” she said of the theft.
But within hours Lowe’s nightmare turned into a tearful reunion after social media users lit up the internet with Tiki’s story and photo, a move that officers say saved Tiki.
“Early that morning the Daphne PD called and told us to get it on social media as soon as possible,” Lowe said. “They said that was the only way to get her back.”
The family posted photos of Tiki and the other lost pups. So did Daphne Police Department and the Puppy Den. Within minutes, the story was leaking into neighborhood pages across Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and Georgia.
“I prayed it would be shared and it was,” Lowe said. “I believe that’s the only reason we got her back.”
Lowe stayed steadfast on her phone, searching online marketplaces where puppies might be sold. As day turned to night and fireworks began to light the Independence Day sky, Lowe posted a desperate plea on Facebook addressed to whoever might have Tiki.
“She’s terrified of fireworks,” Lowe wrote. “She’s gonna shake a lot tonight and pant ... Please give her a safe space and reassure her. Tonight is always a tough night for her.”
Late Saturday night, Tiki finally appeared.
A man in Columbus, Georgia, found her while he was walking his own dog. He posted a lost dog notice on Facebook. Others online put the stories together and began messaging Lowe.
Soon Lowe had dozens of messages with the same screen shot of the tiny black dog. It was Tiki. And she was 250 miles from home.
Lowe’s mind was filled with questions. Why Georgia? Was she in the bag the whole time? Was she dumped when the thieves realized how old she was?
When Lowe finally spoke to the man who found her, he had one question. Tiki was exhausted. She was shaking. She was panting hard. And, she wouldn’t eat. What could he feed her that she liked?
“I think that’s when I took my first breath,” Lowe said. “You would hope that someone who finds your dog would care and he was worried enough that he asked what she liked to eat. I finally breathed.”
The man met Lowe’s son in Montgomery on Sunday to return Tiki. His good turn earned him a place in the family’s heart.
“He’s family now. He’s an absolute hero in our eyes,” Lowe said.
Now back home Tiki is recovering. She was exhausted and dehydrated. She also won’t leave Lowe’s side.
“Last night she was asleep and I put my hand on her and she jumped clean out of her skin,” Lowe said. “We’re going to have some stuff to work through.”
The puppies too appeared online but on a sale site. Lowe said the post was removed shortly after it appeared. Daphne Police said they are continuing the search for the missing pups.
Lowe said she continues to share photos of the pups in hopes that they will find their way home to Daphne as well. In the meantime, Tiki is settling back in and has so much more family fun to look forward to.
“We’ll be a grandma soon,” Lowe said of herself and her constant sidekick, Tiki. “We’ll be celebrating that. Celebrating everything in life.”