VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. - After five days missing and presumed stolen, a man's golden retriever, Dumpling, is back home, and the neighbor who deputies say took the dog faces several charges.
Celeste Neese, 75, had previously watched the victim's animals while he was on vacation and had confronted him about the way he cared for them, according to the Volusia County Sheriff's Office.
"Whenever Dumpling came around the corner, her ears went up and her tail started wagging," said Wayne Dreier, the dog's owner. "She knew she was back home."
When initially questioned about Dumpling's disappearance, Neese told deputies that she was happy that the dog had been stolen, but denied being responsible for the theft.
Neese also denied sending the anonymous letter to the owner, calling him an animal abuser for keeping his dog outside most of the time, deputies said.
Authorities said Neese even offered to talk to her neighbors and try to help find the dog, but by the next time a deputy came to interview her, deputies said Neese was no longer acting quite so cooperative. She criticized the victim for the way that he cared for the dog and said that even if she knew where the dog was, she wouldn't tell.
Neese also told deputies that if the dog had been stolen, it would be better off with a different family.
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But two weeks before Dumpling vanished from the front yard in the Spruce Creek fli-in community of Port Orange, someone sent Dreier an anonymous letter critizicing how he takes care of her.
Investigators were able to make contact with a Flagler Beach couple that had turned Dumpling in to the Humane Society.
At first, the couple claimed that they had found the dog in an alley and took her home. But upon further questioning, deputies said the woman admitted that Neese had asked her if she would care for a golden retriever. She agreed and met Neese and another woman in the parking lot of a Walmart in Ormond Beach to take custody of the dog, not knowing that it had been stolen.
After a few days, when she saw the news coverage and realized that the dog was stolen, deputies said the woman decided to turn it in to the Flagler Humane Society. Investigators later went to the Walmart store, where they were able to view surveillance video from the parking lot that showed Neese and another woman drive up to the store on the evening of Feb. 5.
Deputies said Neese was seen on the video taking Dumpling out of the car and later handing over the dog to her friend from Flagler Beach.
The Sheriff's Office said it is still investigating to determine the role of the second woman who drove to the Walmart with Neese and the dog. However, with enough evidence to arrest Neese, deputies said investigators went to her home in Port Orange Monday afternoon.
When investigators arrived at her home, Neese informed them that she retained an attorney and didn't want to talk, deputies said.
Neese was charged with grand theft, dealing in stolen property and providing false information to law enforcement during an investigation. Neese was booked into the Volusia County Branch Jail in Daytona Beach on $12,500 bond.
"I guess you just have to be careful about who you trust," said Dreier, who told Local 6 he never suspected Neese would have taken his dog.
So far, Dreier said Neese has not apologized for what happened.
Dreier went on to say Neese didn't like Dumpling being left outside, but he thinks her complaints could have been handled differently.
"I'm not going to hold a grudge," said Dreier. "I can live my life, she can live hers."
Neese was released from jail Monday evening. Local 6 attempted to contact her, but she had no comment.
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