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The Lab With Sticky Paws

Canine identified as the thief of several garden statues

Ruth Breiner of McLean isn’t receiving postcards with exotic postmarks from her missing garden ornaments, like the garden gnomes seen on TV ads. Although she doesn’t know where the statues are going, she has finally uncovered the mystery of how they have been going. A four-legged, black Labrador retriever has been identified by the police as the bandit.

After losing half a dozen cement and ceramic garden figurines, 75-year-old Breiner contacted the police, who set up video surveillance through a basement window. The video camera peered through the curtains onto the front garden, where Breiner had set up a menagerie of foxes, squirrels, fawns and raccoons.

“We were concerned that someone was targeting her, targeting them,” said Fairfax County public information officer Sophia Grinnan. “You can’t say one crime is more serious than another just because this is garden ornaments. Depending on your socioeconomic status, these statues could be costing you a lot of money. What if it was 100 times,” said Grinnan.

“We would naturally think it was a person doing this. It was refreshing to see it was a dog. It’s caused some humor. This is a nice switch from gang activity,” said Grinnan.

According to the police, the thefts have been occurring since April, when the owner discovered a raccoon had been pilfered. She replaced the statue and thought nothing more of the incident. On June 7 she went out to her yard and discovered a heavy statue of a fawn had been taken, and she again replaced the ornamental object. The replacement was taken one week later, and two days after that a squirrel statue went missing as well.

BREINER HAS LIVED IN THE HOUSE near the Chesterbrook section of McLean since the 1960s and has never had a problem of this nature before. “I thought it was a teenager trying to be funny,” said Breiner. “My whole yard is lit up, so I thought, if it’s a person, he was being rather bold.”

The last statue was taken over the Fourth of July weekend. Breiner activated a stop button on the surveillance camera after realizing she’d been hit again. She stopped the tape because it begins taping over itself every 72 hours, and she wanted to ensure the authorities had the video evidence in the event she was unable to reach the detective assigned to the case over the holiday weekend.

“On four different occasions, the cameras caught the four-legged thief stealing more ceramic figurines; however, [police] have been unable to make a capture. Police are seeking the public’s assistance in locating the black Labrador retriever. “The dog is sporting a collar but is unidentified at this time,” reads a Fairfax County police report.

Breiner said she has seen a dog fitting that description, wearing a red collar, out in her neighborhood at night. The surveillance tapes are in black and white, making additional identification difficult.

While the involved parties are relieved and amused at the discovery of who is taking the garden ornaments, the question still remains as to what the canine does with his bounty.

“If he’s taking them home, you’d think someone would start wondering about their dog. Maybe he’s burying them or something,” said neighbor Calley Poole.

Breiner said, “If it was my dog and he was taking them home, I’d think, where did he get this?” She added, “I don’t think he was trained to do this.”

THE LAB, ACCORDING TO BREINER who has stayed up till the wee hours of the night to do her own investigation, always strikes at night. “He [comes] in, doesn’t even sniff the animals, picks one up - and goes off,” said Breiner. “These are heavy. He had to pick them up by the ears.”

Police officials and the victim both say they don’t want to prosecute the animal and are willing to let bygone statues be bygone. “It’s a dog. We just want the property returned,” said Grinnan.

Breiner said, “I don’t even care if I get them back. I just want it to stop.”

She is planning to purchase a replacement fox to put in her front garden. “I’m just not going to put them out until something comes of this,” said Breiner.

Anyone with information on the case or the canine suspect is asked to call police at 703-691-2131 or to call Crime Solvers at 1-800-673-2777. Callers can remain anonymous.