2014-10-03 / Pets

Owner offers $10K reward for his pooch

By Stephanie Sumell

LITTLE DOG, BIG REWARD—Riley, a long-haired Chihuahua mix, went missing in Camarillo on Aug. 11. A $10,000 reward has been offered to anyone who can help the ownersnd their lost dog. 
Courtesy of Eliot Fumagalli LITTLE DOG, BIG REWARD—Riley, a long-haired Chihuahua mix, went missing in Camarillo on Aug. 11. A $10,000 reward has been offered to anyone who can help the ownersnd their lost dog. Courtesy of Eliot Fumagalli Eliot Fumagalli fought back tears last week as he spoke about Riley, his lost dog.

He said he and his girlfriend consider the dog, a long-haired Chihuahua mix, to be part of their family. They often took the dog on long walks near their home in New York City.

“We spent all of our free time with him,” Fumagalli said. “People thought we were crazy, but he was our boy.”

And now, the 56-year-old said, they are desperate to bring their boy home. Fumagalli is offering a $10,000 reward for the return of his dog.

The couple lost Riley nearly two months ago while visiting family in Camarillo.

Riley wandered out the front door of the relative’s home near the Ralphs supermarket at Las Posas Road and Ponderosa Drive around 3 p.m. Aug. 11. Fumagalli wasn’t at the home at the time.

He and his girlfriend extended their stay in Camarillo for two weeks to search for the dog, canvassing the area and posting fliers around town. They created a Facebook page and followed up on potential leads before reluctantly returning home.

They said the dog was spotted on Crestview Avenue but was never found.

Still, Fumagalli said, they haven’t given up hope.

The New York resident, who admitted he felt guilty for leaving Riley in someone else’s care, sent informational mailers out to every home in the 93010 ZIP code.

He has also remained in close contact with family, friends, acquaintances and animal groups on the West Coast.

Tara Diller, the director of Ventura County Animal Services, said employees at the shelter continue to post signs and lay traps in areas where there have been sightings of the 10-pound pooch.

She communicates with Fumagalli by email or text nearly every day.

“I’m sure some people think this is crazy, but this is his family,” Diller said. “It makes you really evaluate how far would you go if your pet was missing and you were out of state.”

Diller urged people who find seemingly homeless animals to scan the animal’s microchip and file a found-pet report at the nearest animal shelter.

Those animals might have an owner who is looking for them, she said.

“I think there are a lot of bleeding hearts out there who think they are doing the right thing by taking an animal in. Perhaps somebody has (Riley) and doesn’t realize all this other stuff is going on behind the scenes.”

Fumagalli said a lot has transpired since Riley’s disappearance.

He said the search took a bizarre turn when a woman called him in late August to tell him that two weeks earlier, on Aug. 16, she had found the dog’s harness in a planter on her property on Encino Avenue in Camarillo.

He said the woman, who did not call the number on the dog’s collar and only contacted him after seeing the mailer, changed her story about how she found the harness multiple times over the course of three phone conversations.

She also refused to tell him her last name or address.

“We did not suspect anything about this woman at all until she began acting strangely,” he said. “First, she said the gardeners found it. Then she said a contractor found it. Then she said that none of the gardeners spoke English so I would never be able to speak with them about it.”

Fumagalli likened his experiences with the woman to a “soap opera.”

“The only thing we have requested is if she could have her security company review her surveillance video to look for Riley,” he said. “We offered to pay twice any costs associated with this and said we could mail a check to the police station made out to cash.”

The woman, who brought the harness to the local police station for Fumagalli to pick up, refused.

Later, after seeing fliers for the dog near her property on Encino Avenue, the woman called Fumagalli and his girlfriend to say that she had finally reviewed the security tapes and that she had seen Riley grabbed by a coyote at 4 a.m. on Aug. 12.

“She refused to show us the video or even have a third party confirm what she saw,” he said. “Even though she told us before that she has a security company, when we asked if they could review the tapes to confirm what she saw, she said she didn’t have a security company.”

Also odd, Fumagalli said, was that a forensics test revealed there was no blood or bodily fluids on the still-snapped harness.

“She got extremely angry and screamed at us (when we brought it up),” he said. “She told us that we needed to accept that Riley had been eaten by a coyote and stop looking for him.”

Fumagalli and his girlfriend did the opposite.

The couple said they will give a $10,000 reward to anyone who finds the dog or provides a tip that leads them to finding the dog.

With the help of local animal groups such as Simi Valley Missing Pets, he said, they have posted more than 2,500 fliers with Riley’s picture around town.

They flew back to California last week to follow up with organizations that are helping out with the search.

“I’m very grateful,” Fumagalli said. “Everyone in Camarillo, with the exception of this woman, has been so friendly and supportive.”

Fumagalli said it is unclear why the woman called him in the first place.

“I’m suspicious that she backed herself into a corner,” he said. “No one invests this much effort into a lie.”

But whether the dog is dead or alive, Fumagalli said, he and his girlfriend need to know the truth.

“It’s been very difficult,” he said. “(Riley) was like our child.”

Those who have information on the dog can call or text Fumagalli at (612) 501-9707 or email rileylostdog@gmail.com

To learn more about the search, visit www.facebook.com/ rileylostdog.

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