New Orleans — Festively dressed in a lime green vest and a blue sweater with pompoms, Meg Hall’s 11-year-old dog Skeeter nestled in her arms at Poet’s Custom Framing and Gallery on Magazine Street on Wednesday: It was good to be home.
The Jack Russell terrier-chihuahua mix, who was snatched during an Oct. 30 carjacking, was found Sunday in the vicinity of Monroe Street.
For Hall, it was a happy ending to a nerve-racking two weeks that began when a man punched her in the face and stole her Lincoln Navigator outside of her boyfriend’s mother’s home.
Skeeter was riding shotgun, and Hall pleaded with the man to give back her dog before he sped away.
“All I could think about was Skeeter. I just remember zeroing in on his face,” she said.
As soon as she left the police station, Hall began a campaign to find her dog. That evening she posted the news on Facebook and emailed local media in the hopes that publicizing her story would help get Skeeter back.
By the time she awoke the next morning, her phone was already ringing off the hook.
“I think I did the first interview before even washing my face,” she said.
Word of the dognapping spread rapidly over social media, where Hall’s friends and perfect strangers shared photos of Skeeter. Magazine Street shops such as Fleurty Girl and Bootsy’s Fun Rock’n also used their Facebook presences to lend a hand, while nearby Pat Rack Shipping produced posters to aid the effort.
Hall said that one of her biggest allies was the Humane Society of Louisiana, which not only donated $500 of a reward that eventually grew to $4,000, but also supplied volunteers who helped canvass neighborhoods where a Skeeter sighting had been reported. Tropical Isle owners Earl Bernhardt and Pam Fortner also donated $2,000 to the fund.
As media reports of Hall’s saga began to circulate, her phone rang constantly with Skeeter sightings, tips and advice.
One false alarm had her parents visiting a local bar where patrons had cornered a Skeeter lookalike under the building; another sent her to Veterans Boulevard in the dead of night to examine the carcass of a dog that looked eerily similar to her own.
The most bizarre inquiry came from a man who identified himself as a “seasoned criminal” and was motivated to use his underworld ties to find Skeeter and score the $4,000 reward.
Hall also received a threatening call from a restricted number warning her in a distorted voice that she was being watched.
Nevertheless, she campaigned on, scouring neighborhoods, giving interviews and posting fliers.
But after 10 days, despite the monsoon of media coverage and the recovery of her vehicle, Skeeter was still at large and Hall was beginning to lose hope. Then, she received a call on her cellphone from a woman who said she had found her dog.
“She called it a Taco Bell dog, and she said it was wearing a purple harness,” Hall said.
Hall drove with her boyfriend to the house, where she saw a young boy holding Skeeter.
“I yelled, ‘It’s Skeeter.’ But suddenly I had this sick feeling, I was afraid they’d take him back in the house and not give him back, but instead they brought him right out into my arms.”
Hall said the family had found Skeeter while walking their own dog and confirmed they will receive the $4,000 reward. Though he was dirty and had lost a couple of pounds, Hall said Skeeter is fine and enjoying his newfound fame.
On Wednesday night, the two attended a “Welcome Back Skeeter” party at the Bridge House Lounge, where Hall’s friends and family members gathered to celebrate the good news.
In attendance was Jeff Dorson, executive director of the Humane Society of Louisiana, who said that happy endings like Skeeter’s are unfortunately rare in Louisiana, where thousands of pets are lost, stolen and abused each year. Dorson said that he has an online group of 20 investigators who collectively analyze and attempt to solve cases of lost or abused animals.
“We’re trying to build on this success to help dogs everywhere,” he said.
As for Skeeter, Hall said he’s been relishing the spotlight.
“He’s loving it. If any dog is made to be a celebrity, it’s him,” she said.
At Wednesday night’s event, Skeeter was just that, posing for pictures and news cameras and even receiving a dog bed and slew of treats as gifts.
And by 11 p.m., Hall had posted a new picture on Facebook bound to warm the heart of anyone who had followed her story. It was Skeeter, curled up and sleeping soundly in his new fire-red doggie bed after a long night out.