The Grinch came to Market Square Park this past Saturday, but instead of trying to steal Christmas, the thief took a money bag containing donations for homeless dogs, as well as proceeds from the sale of merchandise at the dog-centric festival Puppies for Breakfast.
This was the cruelest kind of theft – taking money earmarked to help abused and abandoned animals, as well as proceeds to help operate the festival that celebrates dogs, pet owners and rescue groups.
There is a person of interest: an individual who, by eyewitness accounts, arrived before the festival's 10 a.m. start. The man allegedly made away with the estimated $3,400 in cash, as well as the volunteer coordinator's keys and purse, close to the event's ending a little before 2 p.m. While the man, described to be in his fifties, is only a suspect at this time, we're disclosing his modus operandi as a warning to future organizers of public events: He was wearing a white chef's coat from a major local restaurant that instantly made him seem familiar and safe, even though he wasn't accompanied by a pet.
“Within an hour, Jenny, whose purse was in there, was receiving credit card fraud alerts,” says Hector Garcia, the festival's founder. “Whataburger, Best Buy, Walmart, all in the Greenspoint area. He didn't waste any time going to spend that money.”
Garcia says that, of the cash already counted, about $800 was donations for this year's beneficiary, Reggie's Friends, a Conroe-based rescue group named after a deaf pit bull. He says he prefers to work with the smaller rescue groups, where donations can have the most impact. They had not yet finished counting the money, and Garcia estimates that the group should have ended up receiving about $1,200 from the event.
He goes on to say that the real story here is the tremendous outpouring of support received from the community after news of the theft spread on social media. “I posted it on our Facebook page to make people aware, to know what happened, and within minutes people began to flood the page. 'Hey, this sucks, but what can we do to help recoup those funds?” says Garcia. “The next morning I created a GoFundMe page, only because people wanted to donate. We've already raised about $1,600; we set a goal of $3,400 to cover what we lost."
Later that day, Garcia received a message from one of the festival's title sponsors, the Heights-based boarding, day-care and grooming facility Polka Dot Dogs. “Hey, Hector how much would you have given them?” Garcia recounts of the call. The folks at Polka Dot Dogs wrote out a $1,200 check for Reggie's Friends to make up for the loss, which will help them further their mission of helping shelter dogs, street dogs and dogs abandoned in boarding facilities.
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Puppies for Breakfast showcased eight different rescue groups during the four-hour event on May 21, and Garcia says that the GoFundMe endeavor is helping him recoup some of the expenses for producing the festival. He says that the idea for the festival began with a backyard gathering for friends and pets, and that this was the fifth year for putting on a public event. “If we had to estimate, I would say we had close to 4,000 people throughout the day, plus the dogs,” says Garcia.
He also created a coloring book featuring 20 animals that have been rescued. “After this happened, we decided to give 10 percent of proceeds from each sale to Reggie's Friends,” says Garcia.