MANSFIELD – Tessie is doing well now and was back at puppy training camp on Wednesday.
But the 6-month-old sheep was thirsty and hungry when she returned home on Tuesday evening, more than five hours after the dog van she was in was stolen from central Wrentham.
Her owner, Linda Fernando of Mansfield, said on Wednesday she and her family were happy and relieved that Tessie and the other pup were found safe and sound.
“My kids were really upset and my husband was freaked out,” said Fernando, a former school committee member from Mansfield.
Tessie and another sheep named Frida were found safely in cages inside a Tail Blazers University van in Pawtucket on Tuesday night, five hours after the vehicle was stolen outside Cataldo’s Hardware in Wrentham Center.
Tail Blazers is a dog daycare, training and boarding facility on Route 1 in Wrentham. Police seized the van for examination as part of the investigation.
No arrests have been made in the canine hug, but police have a “person of interest” that investigators are trying to contact, Wrentham Police Chief Bill McGrath said on Wednesday.
The ‘person of interest’ is a woman who was at Wrentham District Court on Tuesday and was later seen in Wrentham Center looking for a ride, McGrath said.
It’s unclear if she was the person who stole the van at this point, the police chief said.
Police are trying to find her “to get her in or out,” McGrath said.
But police believe whoever took the van, which is yellow and has a sticker to make it look like a school bus, needed it for transport and not to steal the puppies.
“Right now we believe this is a crime of opportunity,” McGrath said.
Fernando, who was informed of the police suspicions, agreed.
“I don’t think it was a dog kick. It was a crime of opportunity,” Fernando said.
The van was spotted on Capital Street in Pawtucket, off Interstate 95, by someone who saw social media posts about the van and the stolen dogs and called police, McGrath said.
Josh Nichols, the owner of Tail Blazers, said he parked the van right outside the hardware store to quickly run inside to buy a lock for a kennel.
“Because of the heat, I had to leave the air conditioning on,” to keep the dogs cool in the high temperatures on Tuesday, Nichols said.
Nichols, who has come under fire on social media for leaving the animals unattended, said the door to the hardware store was open and he was only in the store for “two minutes, tops”.
He said he believed there was a police officer nearby directing traffic. He also noted that the police station and town hall are nearby, thinking it was safe to enter the hardware store.
“It’s something I’ve done before, but I won’t do it again. I guess I’m naive thinking Wrentham is a small town,” said Nichols, whose keys and $1,000 iPhone were stolen.
Nichols said the dogs were with him “24/7” and were with him on Tuesday as part of their training. He said he was relieved that they were found safe and sound.
“It’s over. It’s a big relief,” said Nichols, who has owned the business for 11 years.
The incident happened on the first day Tessie was “off-leash” at a puppy “training camp,” Fernando said. He is taught to obey without being leashed and to learn other behaviors, such as not jumping on people.
Fernando said Tessie is the fourth pet dog his family has taken to Tail Blazers for training. “We have been using Tail Blazers for many years. They are fantastic,” Fernando said.
“Josh is really great. I have really mixed feelings about that. It was a misjudgment,” Fernando said of the unattended dogs.
“Thankfully both dogs were recovered safe and sound,” she said.
David Linton can be reached at 508-236-0338.