Paging Ace Ventura: El Che, the prize French Bulldog, is missing along with more than a dozen puppies.
The purebred stud, the namesake of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, and 15 of his offspring were nabbed New Year’s Eve from the home of Miami breeder Marcelo Cicuta as he and his mother celebrated the holiday with friends at a kennel. The living, breathing loot, valued by police at $80,000, may fetch the burglars a small fortune.
But whoever broke into Cicuta’s Midtown home not only stole his livelihood, they also robbed him of a close companion. And they pilfered two litters so young that they may not live long without their two mothers, who were left behind.
“I need help. They need their mothers,” Cicuta said Thursday. “They need milk from their mother, or any mother for survival.”
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Miami police say they are chasing down leads on who may have broken into Cicuta’s house through a window in his mother’s bedroom, stuffed the dogs into a pillowcase and walked out - leaving a laptop, iPad, jewelry and other valuables behind.
Could it have been dognappers, committing an increasingly frequent crime in the U.S? Or was it, perhaps, an inside job by someone aware of Che’s pedigree and Miami’s fondness for the breed?
“What’s distinct about this case is someone may have known he had a champion show dog,” said Officer Kenia Reyes, a police spokeswoman.
Cicuta, 39, who is Argentinian and known in breeding circles as Marcelo Tuunrat, is a die-hard breeder who likens the business to playing chess. And Che is Tuunrat’s king.
Five years old, 27 pounds and Russian-bred, El Che is a winner of multiple awards, including the 2010 Westminster Kennel Club Award of Merit, and the French Bulldog Club of America National Specialty show in 2009. That would make Che a commodity in a city where French Bulldogs are among the most popular of breeds – and also among the most-stolen.
“Obviously, we’re following some leads because these dogs stand out,” said Reyes.
Cicuta said El Che and the puppies were taken sometime between 7:20 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, when he left with his mother for a party at a friend’s kennel, and 2:30 a.m., when they returned. He said he immediately noticed a flood light that brightens his front yard was out.
Then he saw the door on the east side of his home was ajar, his mother’s bedroom window was open, and Che was not in his normal spot outside his room. And when he called, the dog didn’t come.
“I opened the door and the dog didn’t show. And my light is on. ‘Che’s not here. Che’s not here,’" he remembered saying. “And my mother is screaming in the living room. She said the two litters behind the kitchen are gone.”
In his home, Cicuta had Che, two female mothers, and three litters of puppies. Only the females and a third, smaller litter of five puppies remained, he said.
Cicuta said he believes the burglary was committed by someone who knew details of his business. He said some of his dogs may have been left behind simply because there weren’t enough burglars or enough time to grab them all.
Reyes, the Miami police officer, said reported dog thefts remain “few and far between” for the police department. Until Wednesday, the most prominent dog caper in Miami occurred in film. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, the slapstick comedy that made Jim Carrey a star, was filmed on South Beach in 1993.
But Lisa Peterson, a spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club, said dog abductions are on the rise in the U.S.
Peterson began keeping statistics from reported thefts and news reports five years ago after she realized there wasn’t anyone tracking the crimes. Using the same criteria, recorded instances have risen from 71 in 2008 to 599 last year.
French Bulldogs are the third-most stolen breed in the U.S., according to her figures.
“There is a huge black market where people grab dogs, then turn around and sell them,” she said. “A dog that would normally cost hundreds or thousands of dollars would be at a discount.”
Peterson worried about the health of the stolen puppies -- one litter two weeks old and the other three-and-a-half.
“Most dogs, puppies at two weeks, their eyes haven’t even opened yet. They’re completely dependent on their mothers,” she said.
Cicuta, too, worries about the puppies. And he’s distraught over El Che’s disappearance.
His house is adorned with El Che’s awards, and even a portrait of Che by Miami Beach artist Drago Milic.
“My dog, for five years, except maybe two or three days, never left me. If I go to Spain, this dog goes to Spain,” he said. “Every city or country I can go, I go with that dog for my work.”
Miami police continue to hunt for the burglar or burglars. Police dusted Cicuta’s house for fingerprints, and Reyes said they’re now searching for attempts on social media sites to sell the dogs.
“What the victim wants is just to have his show dog and puppies safely returned,” Reyes said. “It’s sad because he’s a dog breeder. We consider it a property crime but there’s a little more to that because of the connection he has with these dogs. Someone has to have a heart.”
Anyone with information about the burglary should call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-8477.