French bulldog ‘El Che’ and 15 puppies stolen from a Miami breeder are back home

The champion French bulldog and two litters of puppies stolen New Year’s Eve from the home of a Miami breeder have been rescued, and a suspect arrested by police.

Police on Saturday arrested Vigil “Shaggy” Birch in connection with the burglary of Marcelo Cicuta’s home and theft of his show dog, “El Che.” They also found and returned Che and the last of the 15 stolen puppies to Cicuta, who returned home from a New Year’s party to find his home burgled and his dogs missing, the puppies mothers’ left behind.

“I have the dogs back. Everything is good,” Cicuta said. “I want to say thank you to the Miami police and the Broward policemen.”

Cicuta said the puppies, born less than a month ago, are healthy despite going for several days without their mothers. “El Che,” an award-winning show dog and the father of the puppies, was also in good health.

“My big dog is perfect,” Cicuta said.

Police began investigating the dogs’ disappearance after Cicuta came home from a New Year’s Eve party to find that someone had broken into his home through a window, stuffed the 16 animals into a pillowcase and walked out into the night some time before 2:30 a.m.

A police report valued the 15 puppies at $30,000 and El Che at $50,000, though Cicuta said that figure was not accurate. He declined to otherwise provide the value of his dogs.

Cicuta, known as Marcelo Tuunrat in breeding and show circles, said early on that he suspected his dogs were stolen by someone who knew details of his breeding business. Tuunrat has bred and sold French bulldogs for years, and El Che is a Russian-bred, award winning show dog.

It appears he was correct, as a police report says the suspect arrested early Saturday told officers he and the man who broke into Cicuta’s home “had worked with the victim before in the dog breeding world.”

According to an arrest report, an anonymous tipster led police in North Lauderdale to a location where eight of the puppies were found. A second tip then led authorities to Birch, 29, early Saturday morning.

Police say Birch acknowledged buying Che and the puppies from a friend for $2,200 and hoped to sell them, despite knowing that the friend had stolen the dogs. Birch said he took eight of the puppies to a location in North Lauderdale “to have them raised so they wouldn’t die,” according to his arrest report.

Then, after he saw media reports about the burglary at Cicuta’s home, Birch dropped Che and the remaining puppies off at a location where they were recovered. Police are declining to specify the location, and also redacted the name of the alleged burglar from Birch’s arrest report.

Officer Kenia Reyes, a Miami police spokeswoman, said the investigation remains open and police are still trying to determine who broke into Cicuta’s home. Birch, who in 2010 pleaded guilty to third-degree grand theft of a vehicle and served 18 months on probation, has been charged with 16 counts of grand theft and 16 counts of dealing in stolen property.

The theft of El Che, named by the Argentinian Cicuta after Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, outraged dog lovers. More than 2,000 people “liked” a “Bring Home ‘Che’ and Puppies” Facebook page created after news broke of the dogs’ disappearance.

By Saturday morning, they were celebrating.

“PRAISE THE LORD!!!” wrote Susan Baase Simon. “So happy for Marcelo and his family and of course hoping Che and babies are in good health!”

Said Cicuta: “Now I have a happy New Year.”

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