ST. LOUIS — Ever since she first laid eyes on one chocolate, Labrador-mix puppy, Mary Ann Shelton said she has not been the same.
"I knew I had to have her. She was smart and just had a little determination to her. It was just something about her that said look at me. I can do it," Shelton said.
This moment was seven years ago.
She and "Annie" developed a special bond.
Annie became Mary Ann's beloved, four-legged family member and service dog because her mom has many physical challenges.
"We take one step at a time, and she knows she just take one step. I depend on her to get around because my right leg is just gone," Shelton said.
Now, just days before Christmas, Shelton said her heart is heavy.
"There are no words to describe it," Shelton said.
That's because early Saturday morning she was outside her home, warming up her car near Cook and Pendleton Avenues in north St. Louis, getting ready to take her son to work when two thieves suddenly moved in.
"I just was going back up the steps to check to see if my son was ready, I turned around and it just happened so quick," Shelton said as she remembered the incident.
The thieves walked down the street and hopped in her black, 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo.
Her Annie was on the back seat.
"The one guy sitting on the passenger side stared right at me," Shelton said.
The frantic owner pleaded for her pooch.
"I just begged him. I said please don't take her. Annie just kept barking," Shelton said as she recalled the moment.
The crooks stole her service dog that was still wearing a harness.
"I haven't been able to sleep. I can't really eat anything because I'm so worried about where is she? Is she okay? Have they hurt her," Shelton said.
"It's just been so sad around our home for my mom, my family and our other dog named Baby," Dan Shelton, Mary Ann's son said.
Dan ran after the thieves, searched their neighborhood and called animal rescue teams, but so far, no sign of Annie.
"I'm more frustrated that these people still haven't done the right thing and we still don't have Annie after two days," Dan said.
"Please, bring her home. Drop her off some place. I just want my baby back," a teary-eyed Mary Ann said.
A good Samaritan is stepping in.
He contacted the family and is offering a $500 reward for Annie's safe return. Tuesday, the Humane Society of Missouri announced it would be adding an additional $1,000 reward for Annie's return.
Meantime, 5 On Your Side checked with police and they said in the past 180 days, essentially six months, there were more than 53,000 cars reported stolen in St. Louis.
About 200 of those cars were left running.
Police want to remind drivers to never leave your car unattended when it's running and warming up on those cold days.
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