• Washington Post

Her Last Puppy Died in the D.C. Day Care Flood. Her New One Just Got Stolen.

Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post
Authorities on the scene at District Dogs, where 10 dogs drowned and 20 were rescued after a flash flood in Northeast Washington in August.

Teffiney Worthy was trying to unlock the door to her apartment in Northeast Washington on Saturday afternoon when a man ran up, his face covered by a black ski mask.

“Give me your dog, or I’m going to kill you,” he yelled.

She said she could tell from his voice he was young – maybe a teenager – but he spoke the words menacingly. She saw in his hand what appeared to be a Taser.

She looked down at her puppy, a 6-month-old French bulldog named Hendrix.

Worthy had just gotten Hendrix in September. He had eased Worthy’s grief after her first French bulldog was one of 10 dogs that had died in a flood at a D.C. doggy day care that summer. Some days, she’d sob at the thought of how her previous puppy had drowned. Hendrix, with his soft white coat and brown spots, would lay his head on her lap and nuzzle her.

Worthy had heard about a rash of increasingly brazen dognappings in D.C., crimes that had particularly targeted valuable French bulldogs like hers: three taken in Southeast the week before, two stolen in Southwest in July, all at gunpoint. Last week, while walking Hendrix with a relative, they had even talked about what to do if that ever happened to her. Just give them the dog, her relative had urged her.

But on Saturday – as she faced the masked young man – following through with it was more heart-wrenching than she’d imagined.

“You think, ‘This is what I’ll do. This is how I’ll react,'” said Worthy, an elementary school teacher with D.C. Public Schools. “But you can’t prepare for something like that. It happened so quick.”

As the man held out his hand, Worthy handed him the leash to her puppy. She wondered whether she’d ever see Hendrix again.

Her assailant scooped her dog up. And as he ran into a black car waiting at the curb, Worthy said, the young man let out a laugh, almost a giggle.

The last glimpse she caught of her puppy, disappearing behind the black door of the sedan, was his face. Hendrix looked worried, confused.

The alleged dognapping, first reported by NBC4, reopened deep wounds for Worthy. In August, she had left her previous puppy – named Memphis, the same breed of red pied French bulldog – at a doggy day care named District Dogs in Northeast. Worthy wanted to splurge on him and give him somewhere he’d have people and other dogs to play with while she was out of town.

On Aug. 14, as she was just arriving back in D.C., she saw posts on Instagram about rain flooding the day care. She was rushing in her car to the day care when she got a call telling her Memphis had died. He was just a day shy of turning 1.

The drowning of Worthy’s puppy and nine other dogs at the day care sparked outrage, after it emerged that the business had flooded a year earlier, too, and that city officials had acknowledged it sat in a flood-prone area.

“It was devastating for all of us,” said Colleen Costello, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Northeast whose dog, Maple, also died in the flood. “We bonded and tried to help each other through the tragedy.”

Some owners, still grieving, haven’t gotten a new dog, Costello said. For Worthy, Hendrix was a light that guided her out of that grief. He was a birthday gift – a 15-week-old furball of energy that arrived a month after the flood. They slept every night next to each other.

He had his mischievous moments, too: scratching up her glasses, chewing on her scarves. On Saturday morning, hours before he was stolen, Worthy had returned home from the gym to find Hendrix had urinated all over the floor.

“I told him, ‘No!'” Worthy said. “I tried to ignore him for a second. But I couldn’t stick to it. I have trouble staying mad at him too long.”

D.C. police said they don’t keep statistics on dognappings. Most departments simply lump them in with other robberies. But just last month, Worthy’s friend who lives about 10 minutes away was attacked by a man demanding her dog, Max. When her friend hesitated, the suspect hit her with his gun, sending her to the emergency room for stitches. Because of such stories, Worthy started changing up her routine, often taking random routes for Hendrix’s walks.

When she took Hendrix out Saturday afternoon, she said, she noticed a young man with a black ski mask on paying for gas at the station across the street. She worried for a second, she recalled, but chalked his mask up to Thanksgiving weekend’s suddenly cold weather. Then he crossed the street and walked up to her door, a moment captured by her apartment building’s security camera.

That he appeared to be a teenager was especially troubling to Worthy. As a special-education teacher, she deals with children who are especially struggling. “I’m trying to decipher it,” she said. “I know this isn’t all youth. I keep telling myself: ‘This is just one person.'”

D.C. police said Sunday that detectives were trying to identify the robber, whom they described as a 5-foot-5 man with a slim build, wearing “a black coat, light denim jeans and colorful shoes.” A police report on the incident described the robber getting into a black Nissan with tinted windows and paper tags. That car was accompanied by an apparent accomplice driving a black Infiniti with paper tags.

At home in her apartment Sunday morning, Worthy sobbed as she recalled the moment she handed Hendrix’s leash over.

“Maybe I should have fought back,” she said. “Maybe I should’ve been carrying mace. Maybe if I’d done more, it would have been different.”

Costello and other owners who lost their dogs in the day-care flood banded together Sunday to post fliers for Hendrix in surrounding D.C. neighborhoods and call-outs online. Worthy has been crowdsourcing funds for reward money and a private investigator, and she’s talking to friends and other victims of dognappings she has connected with.

The one piece of advice she’s found comforting is that some owners are able to recover their dogs, either through a reward or shoe-leather canvassing.

But, for now, all that remains of Hendrix in her apartment is the now-empty spot in Worthy’s bed and his toys.

“His favorite one was a little brown chipmunk. It squeaked when he chewed it,” she said. “He loved that thing so much.”