‘Not just a dog’: Media attention, reward helped recover dog stolen in Milford car robbery

It was the longest 25 hours of Emanuel Castillo’s life.

Castillo, a Seymour resident, was visiting family in Milford on Aug. 4. He stopped at a sandwich shop to pick up a take-out order, leaving his 2-year-old golden doodle Leo in his car with the air conditioning on. Castillo was inside for only a few minutes, and during that time, his car was stolen, and with it his best friend.

He immediately reported the vehicle stolen with Leo inside. A flurry of social media posts followed, and 25 hours later, Leo was back with Castillo.

“He’s been with my family here in Connecticut for two years, but he’s an important member of our family,” said Castillo, adding that he picked up Leo as a 5-month-old in El Salvador.

During the 25 hours of waiting and not knowing, Castillo said he couldn’t sleep and lost his appetite.

“It was a horrible experience because he’s not just a dog, he’s a family member, and it was horrible to think that Leo wasn’t going to be with us,” he said. “I did have some hope because of all the support we were receiving. So I knew the word was out there, and people were looking for him.”

Castillo said he had ordered his food online in order to avoid a wait in line. “I wanted to get in and out of the place,” he said.

Once he got to the location, Castillo was told his order didn’t come through the system, even though he said he received a notice from his bank his card was charged with the order.

“So that right there distracted me because that changed my focus,” he said. “I had to re-order, and once I re-ordered, that’s when I went out to check my car. I go outside, and my car is not there, and I started panicking.

“What made things more difficult is there weren’t any cameras in the vicinity,” he said. “Later that night, after the report was done, the Milford Police posted on their social media (about) the stolen car and that Leo was a stolen dog.”

After the report was made by Milford police, Castillo began to see support from news outlets and Facebook groups to try and find Leo.

The next day, as he was putting up flyers about Leo being missing, Castillo received a phone call from Milford police. His car was found in New Haven — but Leo wasn’t in it.

When Castillo and his family found out where the car was found, they spent about an hour in the area putting up flyers and asking people if they had seen his dog.

“We didn’t know if the car thieves let Leo go in Milford or around the area, or they took the dog with them all night, or when they abandoned the car they abandoned my dog too,” he said. “We didn’t know any of that information.”

Around 5 p.m. on Aug. 5, Castillo received a phone call from someone who he said wanted to remain anonymous but had seen the dog.

“They sent me a picture of a dog who they thought was Leo, and it turned out that it was,” he said. “She told me the address to where they had seen him, and my family and I went to the location.”

When they got to the location, Castillo said he saw Leo in the yard of a house, playing with two children.

Castillo starting talking to the homeowner, who told him she had paid $500 for Leo from somebody off the street.

“When Leo came out of the house, he goes crazy because he sees my parents, and it was clear that he was happy to see us,” he said. “We took Leo and put him inside the car, but the people who had Leo asked about the reward, which was on the flyer.”

Castillo said the reward wasn’t sponsored by his family but rather, it was sponsored by an organization that was helping them find Leo.

“We told her that we had to wait for the police to come because it wasn’t just a missing dog but a stolen car as well,” he said. “I told her that we would give her the $500 she had paid for Leo and call it even because after we had Leo, all we wanted to do was to get out of the area. And by Friday evening, we were on our way back home.”

Castillo said Leo wasn’t microchipped and only had his ID tags.

“When we found him, he didn’t have his ID tags,” said Castillo. “But now, we have an appointment with the veterinarian to microchip Leo.”

“So here we are with the car back and Leo back as well,” Castillo added. “That was the most important thing. We didn’t care about the car. We just wanted Leo back. A car can get replaced, but Leo can not get replaced. He’s a member of our family.”

Castillo said he recognizes it was a careless mistake on his part to leave the car on, with Leo in it.

“It is something that could have happened as soon as I was walking inside the restaurant,” he said. “It’s sad that there are people out there watching and seeing an opportunity like that, and they just take it.

“It was a hard lesson to learn,” Castillo added.