Tucsonan Nicole Schwartz learned life can be dramatically altered in as few as two minutes.

Kobe with owner Nicole Schwartz/submitted photo

Kobe with owner Nicole Schwartz/submitted photo

That’s the amount of time it took someone to steal Kobe, her English bulldog, from her locked car while she ran into a P.F. Chang’s to pick up her phoned-in order.

Since the April 15 theft, Schwartz has no longer been able to sleep at home – “It hurts too much to see his bed and toys and dog hair all over” – and has cried pretty much daily.

She’s also launched a community-wide movement to get Kobe back home.

“Dogs are family and I think most of us are pretty much willing to do anything it takes to get our family back,” she said.

Kobe’s Facebook page has gained more than 320 friends in its first several days, with new requests – and tips – streaming in daily. Kobe fliers plaster Fourth Avenue and other areas around town. Schwartz placed an ad on Craigslist and checks area animal agencies and lost dog websites daily.

Schwartz and her friends have amassed $1,500 for a “no questions asked” reward. The Arizona sports site Pointguardu.com added another $1,000 if Kobe is recovered by one of the site’s readers. Anyone who finds Kobe can simply drop him at Hotel Congress, 311 East Congress St, where Schwartz used to work.

Kobe was stolen April 15/submitted photo

Kobe was stolen April 15/submitted photo

“He was definitely my kid,” the 27-year-old University of Arizona senior said. Originally from California, Schwartz’s family is still in Humboldt County. Kobe also came at an opportune time about three months ago when she was going through some scary medical problems and needed support. “He went everywhere with me.”

She continues to lament he came along the night she went to pick up her Chinese food. Schwartz had been at school all day and went to put him Kobe in his crate while she went to get her order. But she said he looked so sad that she figured she’d take him with her.

She pulled into the P.F. Chang’s parking lot at East River Road and North Campbell Avenue around 11 p.m., parking next to a truck and dashing into the restaurant. As she was walking in, a man was walking out with his own order. She gave him a smile, which he did not return.

Schwartz paid for her food and went back to her car – only to find its door unlocked, the window rolled halfway down and Kobe gone. Her car stereo and iPod were untouched.

The truck parked next to her was also gone. She figures her manual window was jimmied down to get to the door lock and her dog.

Schwartz suspects the man in the truck is behind the theft, since he was the only person around and the truck the only other vehicle in that area of the parking lot. Detectives assigned to her case have the P.F. Chang’s videotape of the man purchasing his food.

She describes the man as either white or Hispanic, 6-feet tall and with some facial hair. He was wearing a baseball cap, black shirt and khaki shorts. The truck was silver or white.

The description is not a lot to go by, although Schwartz did see a similar truck driving down Stone Avenue one recent night after her bartending shift at the Buffet. She called in the license plate number to find the vehicle reported stolen. No further information. End of lead.

Other leads have included Kobe spottings at an area pet store – where Schwartz heard stolen dogs are sold after their microchips are ripped out – and a newly adopted bulldog that went to a local family. No leads have panned out. None of the pet store rumors are confirmed.

Join the Bring Kobe Home campaign at Facebook.com/kobethebulldog

Join the Bring Kobe Home campaign at Facebook.com/kobethebulldog

Bulldogs in Vogue?

Kobe is at least the fourth bulldog stolen in recent months. Schwartz heard there have been as many as seven bulldog thefts so far this year.

Two were stolen March 15 from a South Side home, one of which was recovered when 18-year-olds Joe Marty and Mario Bustamante turned themselves in for the theft. The two face charges of second-degree burglary, theft and trafficking stolen property. Neither is currently in jail.

Pima County Animal Care Center’s Jayne Cundy said she knew of another stolen bulldog that was also recovered, thanks to its microchip.

“Although it’s a weird coincidence that all these dogs were English bulldogs, there’s no solid link yet to indicate that the same people or motives are behind all the thefts,” said Marsh Myers, Animal Cruelty Taskforce of Southern Arizona public information officer and director of community outreach for the Humane Society of Southern Arizona.

“That possibility is definitely being explored, but we need more information at this point.”

Myers also said there is currently no evidence of a dog-theft ring in Tucson, nor is there anything to support bulldogs as the latest “in vogue” dog to steal. Even a stolen dog’s fate is a mystery.

“It’s often hard to know (what happens to them) as probably the majority are not recovered,” Myers said. “However, as with most items that are stolen, it is logical to assume that the dogs are quickly sold off to make a buck.”

Stolen dog statistics are also hard to come by. Dog thefts do not have their own crime code and are instead lumped into the “other larceny” category. The severity of the crime is based on the value of the dog.

Kobe cost $3,600 – although Schwartz went against her usual principles of buying a dog from a pet store and spending money she could not afford.

“The moment I met him, I knew he was mine,” she said of the first time she held him at Petland. “I immediately knew it was my dog.”

Kobe navigating on the roadtrip/submited photo

Kobe navigating on the roadtrip/submited photo

Instant Bond

Although she’s only had Kobe a few months, the two had already bonded with morning cleaning rituals, nightly sleeping habits, constant companionship and even a road trip to San Francisco.

“He sleeps with me every night and I miss him so much. Every day I would come home and he runs up to me, tail wagging, jumps in my arm and gives the best puppy kisses you have ever seen.”

Schwartz is not the only one shattered over his theft. “I take him to Congress a lot and every person on staff there had tears in their eyes when they found out what had happened,” she said. “My friend Brian Lopez, of Mostly Bears, Kobe’s number one dog sitter, is heartbroken and it’s not even his dog. Most of my customers (at the Buffet) are feeling the pain of his absence. Kobe is such an individual. The chillest puppy I have ever met.”

Beneath all her grief, Schwartz is not giving up hope. She is also one who sees the positive in every situation, even this one.

“We have an awesome community,” she says of Tucson, even though her car has been broken into more than once and she comes from a small California town “where people don’t steal other people’s dogs.

“I cannot believe the outpour of community support that has come in for my dog. Starbucks on River and Campbell has been really awesome. The manager called me and is on the lookout. Strangers text me with ideas on how to find him. People really care. One (jerk) stole my dog but I believe the community of Tucson is stronger than that one man.

“This is a case of it takes a whole village to find a child,” she said. And she’s confident that village will help her find him.

Help Bring Kobe Home:

Schwartz urges anyone who spots Kobe to call 911, noting location, license plate numbers and any other information. She is also incredibly grateful for all the support, leads and other information she’s been getting.

Volunteers to post more fliers are also welcome.

Call Nicole at 275-9733 or e-mail info to kobethebulldog@hotmail.com

Join Kobe’s Facebook page at: Facebook.com/kobethebulldog

The 20-pound tan pup has a few white splotches, a white face with a corkscrew tail and one black nail on his front right paw. He was stolen a few days before his scheduled surgery and is not yet neutered. He is microchipped: 099102058.

Kobe/submitted photo

The 20-pound Kobe is tan with a few white splotches, a white face with a corkscrew tail and one black nail on his front right paw. He was stolen days before his scheduled surgery and is not yet neutered. He is microchipped: 099102058.

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