During a recent night out at dinner, Douglas DeGroot missed a call from an unfamiliar phone number. When he checked his voice mail, he heard the message he had been waiting more than 10 weeks to receive: "I have your dog, please call me."
DeGroot last saw Charlie, his family's Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, on Feb. 13 at his home on Lumber Lane in Bridgehampton. He initially thought Charlie ran away, but later he learned from a neighbor that the dog had likely been stolen.
He called the number back, spoke to the Patchogue woman who left the message, and by 11 p.m. the DeGroots and Charlie were reunited. The woman's son drove out to bring Charlie back — overshooting Bridgehampton and getting lost in Amagansett on the way, adding to the DeGroots' wait and anticipation.
DeGroot said that he just wanted to have Charlie back, so he did not ask the woman many questions.
But she did explain that about 10 weeks earlier a friend came to her and said she had a dog who needed a home. She agreed to take the dog in, not knowing his origins. One of her friends visited Bridgehampton after that and informed her that her new pet was on "Stolen Dog" signs all over town. DeGroot said the woman looked into it and found being stolen. She realized her dog and Charlie were definitely one and the same.
"She said, 'I felt horrible; I haven't been able to sleep,'" DeGroot recalled.
"He was well taken care of," DeGroot said. The woman, who he didn't name, had taken Charlie to a veterinarian, and she refused the $300 reward being offered.
She told DeGroot that her backyard had become full of cinderblocks to block Charlie's egress, because he kept trying to dig his way out. This was funny to DeGroot, because Charlie's knack for escaping is seemingly what led to him being stolen.
DeGroot told Patch in March that Charlie will dig his way under any fence — and even endure the shock of an electric collar for an invisible fence — because he is determined to roam free. However, he always returns shortly thereafter.
"He's just an escape artist," said DeGroot's wife, Kathryn. "He just loves to go on little adventures."
She said that whenever she returns from the grocery store, Charlie knows that's his chance to sneak past the door. "He'll run out between your legs when you have grocery bags in your hands."
On the morning of Feb. 13, Charlie got out once again. When he didn't come back after a few hours, DeGroot became concerned and started to spread the word that Charlie was missing. Three days later, his neighbor told him she thinks she knows what happened.
Let Patch save you time. Get great local stories like this delivered right to your inbox or smartphone every day with our free newsletter. Simple, fast sign-up here.
As DeGroot relays the story, an irate woman showed up at the neighbor's house with Charlie calling her a bad pet owner and chastising her for letting the dog get loose. The neighbor explained the dog belongs to the DeGroots across the street, and gets out from time to time. She had assumed the woman brought the dog to the DeGroots' house after that. But when the neighbor got an email about Charlie being missing, she put it together that the woman must have driven off with him instead.
At one point DeGroot received tips that a dog matching Charlie's description had been spotted in Springs. He traveled to Springs on three occasions to search and post fliers, and even left his jacket outside hoping Charlie would catch the scent. It turned out to be a female dog, which was eventually picked up by animal control. He also called animal shelters all over Suffolk, to no avail.
The DeGroots bought Charlie three years ago as a puppy. The children, Heather, 13, Jonathan, 11, and Beatrice, 9, researched breeds online themselves and decided on a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
"I was really happy," Jonathan said of Charlie's return. He admitted that he never thought he'd see his dog again, but said his father never gave up hope.
DeGroot said it's easy to tell that Charlie missed being in Bridgehampton, as he runs on their 16 acres, happily chasing the kids.