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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org