A dog who was allegedly stolen in Fayetteville in late August and found later in Maryland died Sunday after he was reunited with his family last week.
Nigel, a 1-year-old pit bull mix, was found roaming the streets of Dundalk, Maryland, by Leah Biddinger — a self-proclaimed animal lover. Biddinger said Friday from her car in Baltimore that she decided while recovering from surgery to treat stage-four cancer that she would make it her life’s passion to rescue and care for animals of all shapes and sizes.
Biddinger carries with her a handheld scanner to scan stray animals for chips so that she can return them to their homes. When she scanned Nigel, she was surprised to discover that he was about 360 miles away from his home in Fayetteville.
Biddinger was able to contact Nigel’s owner, Sheila Salazar, who told her that Nigel had been stolen from his home Aug. 28, Biddinger said.
“Your dog is here, I have no idea why he’s here, but I’m getting him back to you,” Biddinger said she told Salazar.
Nigel’s journey home
With the help of some friends, Biddinger found Amelia Air, a Maryland nonprofit organization that flies animals to new homes to save them from euthanasia in high-kill shelters.
Within days, Nigel was on a flight home with two volunteer pilots from Virginia, Jared Miller and Jordan McCarthy, and he was reunited with his family Sept. 5.
“When Nigel was reunited with his mother, Sheila, it was amazing,” Miller said Friday from Winchester, Virginia. “She dropped down to her knees and was almost in tears, and he ran right to her.”
Nigel had no problems flying on an airplane and he even sat in the pilots’ laps for the majority of the flight, according to Miller.
“He did awesome in the plane. It was like he has flown a plane himself before,” Miller said.
Miller, who is training to be a commercial pilot, began volunteering with Amelia Air about a month ago to further his flight training and help animals at the same time, he said.
When Miller and McCarthy arrived in Fayetteville, Salazar told them about how Nigel went missing, saying that he disappeared after he was let out into the family’s fenced-in yard on Portsmouth Drive, Miller said.
“One day, he was gone for over two-to-three hours, so Sheila was pretty worried,” Miller said. “She located him in one of her neighbor’s yard … when she was calling for him near the fence line, they were telling her ‘get out of here, we don’t know who you are.'”
Salazar called the police, but by the time officers were able to contact the neighbors who had allegedly stolen Nigel, he was no longer at the house, Miller said.
While nobody knows quite how Nigel got to Maryland, he was found with several partially healed wounds, Miller said.
“We just know that he went through something pretty unpleasant,” Miller said.
It is still unclear to Miller why someone would steal Nigel from his home, but he speculated that he was taken to be bred or used in dogfighting.
According to Nigel’s owner, Sheila Salazar, who affectionately refers to him as Cujo, she adopted Nigel on May 27 from the Hoke County Animal Shelter, where he was held after he was rescued from being used in dogfighting.
A sudden illness
Nigel was brought safely home to his family on Sept. 5, but by Saturday, he was acting sick, Salazar said.
“He was doing fine … He was healthy,” Salazar said. “All of sudden he started using the bathroom and he was peeing blood.”
Salazar said she initially believed that Nigel had a urinary tract infection, and she made plans to take him to the veterinarian, but by the time she could get him there, he had already died.
“From one day to another, he went from a happy-go-lucky, running, drinking, eating, lovable puppy to looking at me and saying ‘mama, I’m not going to make it’ with his puppy eyes,” she said.
She said she doesn’t know for sure what happened to Nigel that caused his death, but she is certain that he would still be alive had he not been stolen.
According to Salazar, the veterinarian could not immediately say what Nigel’s cause of death was and she said that she could have sent him to get toxicology tests done, but if she had chosen to do that she wouldn’t have gotten his body.
She made the decision instead to have him cremated so that she could take him home.
“We had to make a choice,” Salazar said. “If we did that I wouldn’t have gotten my baby back, he would have just stayed there or he would have been disposed of.”
Searching for justice
According to Biddinger, the police are not pursuing charges against the people who allegedly stole Nigel, while she wants legal action to be taken against the people she says could potentially try to harm other animals, she said.
The Fayetteville Police Department was not immediately available to comment on whether they planned to pursue any further action against the people who allegedly stole Nigel.
Salazar echoed Biddinger’s calls for justice, saying that she has called the police repeatedly and filed a complaint against the officer who responded to her original call.
“I’m going to do something,” Salazar said. “Whether it means I have to go to the mayor or whoever I have to go to, because you shouldn’t do that to somebody, even a dog.”
Crime Reporter Jack Boden can be reached at [email protected].
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