Gone for 72 days, family dog is found - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Gone for 72 days, family dog is found

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Stella relaxing at home after being gone from her family for 72 days. Stella relaxing at home after being gone from her family for 72 days.

By News 8 Reporter Craig McKee  

DEL MAR (CBS 8) - The Sunseri Family searched for weeks after their Golden Retriever Stella disappeared from their truck while it was parked at the Del Mar Fairgrounds back in October of this year.

The family posted flyers, created a website for information and followed every tip that came in seriously. Eventually, they came to grips with the fact they'd most likely never see Stella again.

However, just two days after Christmas, the Sunseri Family was contacted by someone in National City who told them they were given a dog by their cousin.

The family went down and met the person and discovered the dog in question was indeed Stella.

"She is happy and exhausted and I am looking forward to every day with her for the rest of her life," said Brigitte Sunseri.

While initially the Sunseri family thought someone attempted to steal their truck and Stella got out and wandered off, the most recent discovery indicates that someone may have intentionally taken Stella out of the truck.

The family says at this point they don't care about the details, they're just happy to have her back home.

This is a story update. Read the original story below.


By News 8 Reporter Craig McKee

DEL MAR (CBS 8) - Dogs truly are a man's best friend.  They live with us, sometimes sleep in the same bed with us and most certainly like to hop in the car for a drive.

One San Diego family is now on a frantic search for their life long friend who disappeared from their car on Friday at the Del Mar Fairgrounds without a trace.

"Stella is the family pet," says Robert Sunseri. "She's been with us for 13 years."

To the Sunseri family, their Golden Retriever Stella was a second daughter.

"She loves the beach, she loves riding in the car. She's just been by my side for 13 years," explains Brigitte Sunseri, who brought Stella into her life as a puppy back in 1997.

Stella truly is a member of the family. She gets dressed up for Halloween and enjoyed a good picnic.

"She'd been to the waterfall even to Hawaii," said the Sunseri's four-year-old daughter Kianni.  "I want my dog back."

Those 13 years of joy and happiness just stopped this past Friday night when Stella vanished without a trace.

"We went to visit a friend over at the Del Mar Fairgrounds who was in the process of showing horses," explains Robert.

Stella traveled everywhere with the family and Friday was no different.  They'd left Stella in the truck, like they've done a million times before.

"She stayed in the vehicle, left the window down, she was in the vehicle," Robert says. "We went out and checked on her, or I went out and checked on her at, between 6:00 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. Took her for a little walk and let her go to the bathroom.

Since Stella was thirteen she couldn't jump into the truck, so Robert picked her up and put her back in and onto her bed inside, leaving the windows cracked for fresh air and locked the doors.

"It wasn't necessarily a freezing cold day and not a hot day it was about 66 degrees," Brigitte says. "She's always gone everywhere with me. She's run to the grocery store, but I never take her on hot days."

The family enjoyed the horse show for another ninety minutes and when it was time to leave - Stella was gone.

"I was shocked," said Robert. "I just couldn't believe she was gone."

"I didn't see her there on the little bed we have for her, then I thought she was on the floorboards," Brigitte says. "My first question was where's Stella where's our dog?"

They searched the fairgrounds extensively, not sure if someone had reached in and unlocked the truck and taken her or if someone tried to steal the truck and Stella scared them off and then got loose.

"The actual key section for the drivers door had been punched out," Robert said.

"Just leave your pet at home, usually your pet is more happy to stay at home where its comfortable," says Daniel DeSousa, with the San Diego County Animal Services.

DeSousa says pet theft isn't a huge problem in the area, but he adds that even if someone did think Stella needed to be somewhere safer they should have called someone and not taken the matter into their own hands.

"Call the police department call the sheriff's department they can get out there a lot quicker than we can," he explains. "If they feel the animal is at risk they will enter the vehicle and take the animal out and hold it for us."

Brigitte says she understands how someone could be concerned about Stella locked in the truck, but says there are other ways to handle it. "Leave a note! Tell me you thought I was a jerk for leaving her in the car or whatever, but leave a note."

Whether Stella was taken or got out after an attempted truck theft, the Sunseri family isn't sleeping well without furry bedtime kisses or the early morning bedside wake-up calls.

"It's been tough and that's been one night, I don't know how the rest of the nights are going to go," Brigitte said.

"We just want our dog back, no questions asked. Just take her to a vet or a shelter and just turn her in," pleads Robert.

Stella doesn't have a micro-chip ID, therefore, would not be easily identified if taken to a shelter or veterinarian.  Brigitte says in hindsight everyone should have one for instances like this.

There is a reward being offered for her return and the family has setup a lost and found ad on Craigslist to get the word out.

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