SAN TAN VALLEY, Ariz. - A San Tan Valley family convinced their neighbor stole their dog could be one step closer to getting him back after a surprising development Tuesday night.
Snoop, the Todd family’s 4-year-old Boston terrier, disappeared from their backyard in June.
The family's suspicions he'd been stolen gained momentum this weekend after Snoop was spotted at a house, known to have multiple dogs, just around the corner.
Carlee Todd says the elderly woman who lives there refused to give him back.
The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office initially declined to investigate the case as theft, calling it a civil matter.
That changed Tuesday evening after they say the elderly woman confessed to an animal control officer that she knew the dog belonged to her neighbors but still wasn’t going to return it to them.
The sheriff’s office has since reopened the case as a criminal investigation.
12 News isn’t identifying the woman because she hasn’t been charged.
“I’m just so grateful that they're giving us that chance to really show them everything we have to prove that it is Snoop,” said Todd.
Under Arizona state law, pets are considered property and knowingly keeping someone’s property without making an effort to return it is considered theft.
Todd says the lack of willingness from law enforcement to get involved in the case surprised the family.
Attorney and law professor Monica Lindstrom says in her experience, cases were sometimes deemed “civil” because they were tough cases for law enforcement to deal with.
“It was often an excuse that was used for law enforcement not to get involved in a sticky situation,” Lindstrom told 12 News. “It seems a bit ridiculous to me. If they have information that a crime has been committed, it's their responsibility and duty to investigate that crime.”
When asked why the case couldn’t be investigated, the sheriff's office cited a state law that states that if someone finds a cat or dog and searches for the owner for six days, the pet is automatically theirs.
Lindstrom says that argument might not hold up in court considering how close the families live and that the owner was reported to be actively searching for the dog for months.
When we spoke with the woman Tuesday evening, she denied stealing the dog and said she found it running loose in the neighborhood.
Two neighbors who showed up also defended the woman, saying she’s not a bad person and wouldn’t steal a dog.
The woman again insisted she had no plans to give the dog back despite knowing it belongs to the Todds.
“I don't want any harm to come to her,” said Carlee Todd, “I just want Snoop back the way he was, healthy and strong. I want him back with my family.”
12 News will also continue to follow the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office’s investigation into the alleged theft.
Animal control officers who responded to the elderly woman’s home did cite her for having more than five dogs without a permit.
They said Snoop was in good health.