The Dognapping of Kid Boots Ace

A champion Boston Terrier disappeared during a victory lap at a Chicago dog show in 1934. Then came the phone call demanding money.

On a cold and snowy late February afternoon in 1934, more than a hundred dogs were gathered at the Western Boston Terrier show at Chicago’s Hotel Sherman, one of the largest and swankiest establishments in the Midwest. At the exhibition hall in the hotel’s sumptuous ballroom, the dogs—grouped variously by gender, age, and hierarchy—strode and preened for a group of discerning judges, who watched up close and from a distance. Who would win, who would place, who would show?

Kid Boots Ace was only 18 months old, but he was already a champion. The 13-pound Boston Terrier had made his mark at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York two weeks prior, on Valentine’s Day, by besting all the other breed entrants, and he’d won two other competitions the year prior. Now, not quite two weeks after his Westminster triumph, he’d arrived in Chicago in a bid to extend his winning streak.

For Kid Boots Ace’s owner, Louis Rudginsky, the stakes were high. Rudginsky was a jovial man in his early 50s, an Orthodox Jewish immigrant from Russia who’d arrived in America with his family at the turn of the 20th century, bootstrapping his way to the upper middle class, first with a chain of drugstores around Boston. He had a vibrant personality and was naturally prone to trusting people, even when it wasn’t the best idea—as was the case when he loaned credit to customers just after the 1929 stock market crash; when they couldn’t pay him back, his fortune evaporated and he was forced into bankruptcy.

After a few years, Rudginsky had rebounded enough to run the Central Tire Company in Boston and keep up his sideline breeding Boston Terriers, the dogs he’d raised and shown for nearly a quarter century. He was convinced that his sensitive, friendly, intelligent pups ranked among the best of breed. Timmie, as Rudginsky commonly called Kid Boots Ace, seemed to course with the blood of his prizewinning ancestor Million Dollar Kid Boots, a 1929 Westminster Best of Breed winner who racked up coast-to-coast wins over the following five years. Million Dollar Kid Boots’ exploits were so legendary that dog breeders clamored for their dogs to mate with him, with the resulting offspring sold for between $1,500 and $2,000, or more than $25,000 today—an enormous sum at the Depression’s nadir.

Timmie, streaked white between his pointed ears all the way down his face, was sweet and docile, traits that made Boston Terriers popular then and have kept them so today. He followed commands and somehow transcended them at the same time. These were common characteristics of Boston Terriers, but as Rudginsky later told reporters, “He’s got something that the others haven’t. He steals the show any place he goes.”

In Chicago, the Bostons performed their tricks for judge E. D. Boehm of the New York City Kennel Club. They showed off their grooming and other physical attributes, as well as their ability to run and walk with perfect balance. After strutting their stuff, the dogs waited for the judge’s verdict, delivered with cool aplomb. When the afternoon ended, Kid Boots Ace emerged as a winner once more, awarded a silver trophy and ribbon—but no cash prize, for prestige was its own reward in the dog-show world—for best male terrier.

Kid Boots Ace seemed to course with the blood of his prizewinning ancestor, Million Dollar Kid Boots, a 1929 Westminster Best of Breed winner who racked up coast-to-coast wins.

Rudginsky, of course, was thrilled. Timmie hadn’t been feeling well all afternoon, and Rudginsky had had to make sure the dog received its specially prepared foods to keep indigestion and other minor maladies at bay. Timmie had cost Rudginsky $1,500, and the more the Boston won or placed at dog shows, the higher his breeding price rose.


Breeding Bostons wasn’t anywhere near a full-time gig. For his primary job, as president of the Central Tire Company, Rudginsky had a bus-and-two-trolley daily commute from his two-story townhouse in the seaside town of Winthrop, Massachusetts, to the company’s Boston offices in Scollay Square. But Bostons were a passion Rudginsky shared with the rest of his family, including his parents, Samuel and Goldie, and his younger brothers, Charles and Harry. Timmie, his favorite “Kid,” shone above all.

As Kid Boots Ace finished up a photographic victory lap, posing with a Chicago society lady named Gertrude Koenig, Rudginsky began to chat with a nearby friend, Paul Schwartz, the editor of Boston Terrier Magazine. Engrossed in conversation, Rudginsky let his attention for his beloved dog lapse. The Hotel Sherman lobby, newly renovated in marble, pulsed with the throng and din of the high-society spectators.

When Louis Rudginsky turned back to Kid Boots Ace, the dog had vanished. The black fiber bag with Rudginsky’s initials on it was empty. The Boston didn’t turn up that night, or the next night, or the one after that. What happened next captured national attention, once people realized that Timmie was no mere lost dog.

He had been dognapped, for a ransom. It was the first time, police said, that a high-society canine had been snatched. Crime had arrived at the door of this most genteel world, where breeding and lineage tracking grew out of the basic human desire for the love of a pet.

“We have your dog. We want $5,000 to give it back.”
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At first, Louis Rudginsky wasn’t particularly concerned. Perhaps Timmie had simply wandered off to another part of the Sherman, or somewhere nearby, like the hotel’s restaurant, beloved of jazz musicians, politicos, and gangsters. When a quick search turned up empty, and evening became night, Rudginsky wondered if something more sinister was afoot. He had noticed a tall, blonde woman dressed in black loitering around the exhibition hall, her attention keen around the Bostons. But he hadn’t given the woman more than a glancing thought, because she wasn’t out of place among the fancily dressed, well-heeled folk that typically populated dog-show audiences. Not until he could no longer determine his dog’s whereabouts.

Rudginsky returned to his hotel room, knowing he would have to break the news to his wife, Frances, who was also his dog-breeding partner. Then the telephone rang. He picked up. He didn’t recognize the voice on the line.

“We have your dog. We want $5,000 to give it back.”

Rudginsky didn’t know how to react. Kid Boots Ace had indeed been dognapped, as he had feared. But the ransom demand was ridiculous—about the average cost of a new house. “That dog isn’t worth a nickel to anybody else,” he told the caller. “He never was a ‘pet’ dog. He’s a show dog. I bred him myself and have had good luck with him.”

The caller hung up. It seemed as if that would be the last Louis Rudginsky heard from anyone purporting to possess Timmie. Perhaps it was just a hoax. But another couple of days passed and the dog remained missing. Rudginsky wasn’t ready to return home yet. Then, on February 27, he received a message: he would get another phone call the following evening, but it would have to go through a trusted intermediary.

Rudginsky enlisted his friend, magazine editor Paul Schwartz. Two police detectives also stood guard in Rudginsky’s room at the Sherman awaiting further communiqués from the purported dognappers. When the phone rang again, Schwartz answered. The unknown caller repeated the ransom demand, but for a far more reasonable figure: $500.

This amount, more in line with the annual expenses to keep his collected half-dozen Boston Terriers in good working order, Rudginsky was willing to pay. “I’m ready to do business,” he said. “That darned dog isn’t worth anything to the racketeers.”

But the anonymous caller hung up, and did not call back again.

Dogs have been disappearing for as long as humans have desired to keep them as pets. That desire may be tens of thousands of years old, considering that dogs and cats were buried with humans as far back as 12,000 years ago. Having a pet was a signal of wealth and status when resources were (and still are) finite. It wasn’t only that dogs were man’s best friend, it was about showing the world that you were worthy of love and of being loved. And so when they disappeared, by accident or for nefarious reasons, the act was far more damaging and violating than the loss or stealing of property.

The first “lost dog” advertisement cataloged by the American Kennel Club appeared in the English newspaper The Savor in 1683, and it’s highly likely there were earlier ones. Deliberate abduction, especially for ransom, is a more recent phenomenon. The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s beloved Cocker Spaniel, Flush—later the subject of an eponymous “imaginative biography” by Virginia Woolf—was abducted three times for ransom, and each time Browning paid to get the dog back.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary dates dognap to 1898, while dog-nappers appeared in a short piece on how to avoid them in the December 9, 1897, edition of the Daily Capital Journal, based in Salem, Oregon. “Dognapping,” as a phrase and concept, showed up a few years later, on February 20, 1901. Two mysterious men were spotted on a Minneapolis street leading away Bruno E, a Saint Bernard living with a tobacconist named James Elwin. That evening, Elwin received a ransom call: He’d get Bruno E back for the tidy sum of $100. Elwin refused. “You will be sorry,” the caller said. Elwin promptly offered a reward for his dog’s safe return in the Tribune. The morning after the ad appeared, the dognappers rang again, this time threatening to burn out poor Bruno’s eyes. Still Elwin did not waver, even when the ransom demand dropped to $10. Waiting served Elwin well, at least financially; a few days later, Bruno returned home “in a bad condition, looking as if he had been tied up without food and attention.” Hours later, the dog was dead. An autopsy determined that Bruno had been poisoned by his dognappers, who were never identified.

More dognapping accounts dotted the newspaper archives I consulted. There was Bob, a police dog in Mattoon, Illinois, whom the Evening Star reported stolen away in May 1907 by an express messenger from Peoria to nearby Newton. Some days later his master, a security guard named Nate Frakes, discovered the pup in an alleyway while out on patrol, “demonstrating his joy in the manner of little bow wows.” (Bob might have wagged his tail too, according to the Mattoon Morning Star write-up on May 15, but the poor dog was “bereft of this appendage.”) And Tasso, a Scotch collie belonging to Independence, Kansas, mayor F. C. Moses, which was taken against its will just after Thanksgiving 1912 only to return home the following Monday, was, according to the Evening Star, as “the most bedraggled, footsore, cockle burr-laden pup that ever barked at a cat or scratched a flea.”

“That dog isn’t worth a nickel to anybody else,” Rudginsky told the caller. “He never was a ‘pet’ dog. He’s a show dog. I bred him myself and have had good luck with him.”

The stories came and went. Bulldogs, bird dogs, Yorkshire Terriers, collies, and poodles of various varieties, stolen or secreted away from their well-to-do owners, for money or more mysterious motives. The culprits ranged from organized dog-theft rings to drug addicts to lonely people desperate for love and companionship. News stories from Hawaii to Manitoba, Florida to Pennsylvania, and all points in between sometimes took dognappings seriously or dismissed them as humorous canards, but the general sentiment was bafflement—for such snatchings were emotional and financial violations, but they weren’t officially thought of as criminal in the way that human abductions were.

There were calls as far back as 1922 to make the abduction of dogs a federal crime, but those calls were not heeded then, nor for decades after, until the passage of the Animal Welfare Act, in 1966. Although the legislation, when first introduced to Congress by Senator Joseph S. Clark and Representative Joseph Resnick, was colloquially referred to as “the dognapping law” because it stemmed from a 1965 dognapping of a Dalmatian from Pennsylvania to an upstate New York dog hospital—where it was reported to have died and been cremated—the final law had more to do with regulating the treatment of animals for medical research. (The 1966 law has been reintroduced several times since, most recently as the Pet and Safety Protection Act of 2017.) Stealing was a way to slake ever-growing demand by researchers who didn’t ask questions as to where their animal subjects originated.

Every few years, before and after this federal legislation, the story of a dognapping would capture public imagination, inspiring horror or playing it down. Individual stories abounded in large part because there are, even today, no reliable statistics for how many dogs are abducted each year. The American Kennel Club has said dognappings were “on the rise” from 71 reported incidents in 2008 to 637 in 2014, but such statistics depend on the number of incidents reported to law enforcement, or to the AKC. The organization’s pet database of 2015 also indicated that pit bulls (or mixes) were the breed most likely to be stolen, followed by Yorkshire Terriers, Chihuahuas, bulldogs, Pomeranians, Shih Tzus, and German Shepherds.

Dog theft strikes at the emotional core of someone’s well-being, but it also forces us to ask: How do we really know how much anyone loves their pet? And does that love have an actual price?

Days passed, and still there was no word about Kid Boots Ace. As much as Rudginsky wanted to stay in Chicago and continue searching, he knew he had to return home to Winthrop, Massachusetts, to Frances, their son, Sam, and the other Boston Terriers they were raising. He had a job, a family, a community. He didn’t want to give up on Timmie, but it seemed there was no other choice.

The ordeal took a physical toll, too: Rudginsky, switching between uttering profanities and shedding tears, told the Associated Press he “lost 10 pounds myself” wondering what had happened to his prizewinning Boston. “The darn little dog. He’s cost me $10,000 in worry.” Rudginsky said he didn’t bat around such figures cavalierly, either, recalling his earlier bankruptcy. But that was business. Losing his beloved Boston Terrier was a more personal blow, leaving him an emotional wreck.

Before leaving Chicago, Rudginsky spoke to reporters for several wire services about Kid Boots Ace. The circumstances of the dognapping were catnip for newspapers looking for unusual stories to run on their front pages. “Prizewinning Terrier Stolen After Dog Show,” blared the Chicago Tribune a day after trumpeting the Kid’s win (with an accompanying photo). “Kidnappers Hold Prize Dog in Demand For $500 Ransom,” broadcasted the Binghamton Press.

“He’s no good except as a show dog,” Rudginsky told United Press. “All you could win with him would be blue ribbons. I taught him to pose like a model. That’s all he knew. I hope he’s all right.” To the International News Service, Rudginsky was even more blunt: “The dog will die if I do not get him back soon. The long trip here weakened him, and I have had to give him medicine constantly.” Timmie, Rudginsky, explained, was “always a sickly dog—overbred and timid. Unless they feed him right, he won’t live. He’s got to have raw meat, raw eggs, milk, and medicine.”

Rudginsky’s rancor extended to the city of Timmie’s abduction. “I hadn’t shown in Chicago for 25 years and I won’t show here again for another 25 years. It’s lucky Sankey, Touhy, and Sharkey are out of the way or they’d steal the whole hotel,” he added, referring to a notorious trio of Chicago criminals undone by murder, suicide, and criminal convictions over the prior few months. “All the dogs in the world aren’t worth what he’s taking out of me. The little son of a gun, he stole the show here—that’s the trouble. People tried to buy him, but I liked that little dog, you know?”

Rudginsky, dejected, returned home to Massachusetts. But the search for Kid Boots Ace had expanded beyond the Windy City to Boston Terrier clubs all over the Northeast. In Newark, New Jersey, as reported by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the Union & Essex Boston Terrier Club resolved to forward “a small sum of money” to Paul Schwartz and his associate editor at the magazine, Morris Coan, “to be used as a nucleus for payment of the ransom.” A small delegation of the group appeared at a Brooklyn Boston Terrier Club meeting on March 9, 1934, to raise further money for Kid Boots Ace’s ransom.

Five days after the Terrier Club meeting, the dognappers made contact once more. The United Press reported the call was placed to “a friend of Rudginsky’s in New York”—likely H. G. Lyle, president of the Brooklyn Boston Terrier Club—renewing the $500 ransom demand. But since Rudginsky had authorized only a $250 payout, this demand, too, was not met.

Then the trail dried up. Kid Boots Ace was gone, seemingly for good.

On a cold, clear, mid-March day, I found myself several inches deep in snow at a desolate cemetery in Everett, Massachusetts. I was searching for the graves of Louis Rudginsky and his wife, Frances, because I thought it might help me get at a question that had nagged at me as I’d researched and reported out this story: How did an Orthodox Jewish immigrant couple end up breeding and raising Boston Terriers in the suburbs of Boston?

This was an even bigger mystery to me than who dognapped Kid Boots Ace. None of Rudginsky’s surviving descendants had any idea. Dogs, especially Boston Terriers, were simply present at the Rudginsky home, no explanation necessary. They were sold to interested buyers or given away to family members as gifts.

To solve this riddle, or try to, I needed to visit Winthrop, where Louis, his brothers Charles and Harry, and their parents settled in the 1910s. I needed to feel the wind whip my hair around Boston Harbor as I walked along the storm-walled, pebble-lined beach, to see Tifereth Israel, the synagogue where Louis and his wife, the former Frances Holzwasser, were founding and active members, and to visit the local library, in case it stored pictures or documents about the Rudginskys.

Even a look at the brown-and-yellow house on 160 Grovers Avenue, where the couple raised their son and kept a half-dozen dogs in a six-kennel-deep basement, helped fill in some blanks. But not all of them. Winthrop’s Jewish community, created almost wholesale in 1909 by mass exodus from nearby Chelsea after a fire the year before killed 19 people and destroyed most of its buildings, has dwindled to the point where its synagogues can only occasionally gather together the necessary number of members to form a minyan, required for services.

Barely a handful of people I spoke with in Winthrop had direct memories of the Rudginskys during the family’s six or so decades living there; when they did, recollections of Frances predominated. Craig Mael, Tifereth Israel’s cantor and a longtime Winthrop resident, recalled, “When Frances said something, people listened. No conversation ended without her weighing in. She was a very strong-willed woman.”

I visited the archives of the American Kennel Club in New York City, where the Rudginskys’ paper trail turned out to be surprisingly comprehensive: the AKC tracked every dog show and live birth, while the Jewish Advocate, the Boston-area Jewish community newspaper, reported on matters as picayune as the annual Ladies Auxiliary meeting, where Frances (who doubled as Hebrew School Council chairman) tended to hold court and host parties at her home between the 1920s and 1960s.

“He’s no good except as a show dog. All you could win with him would be blue ribbons. I taught him to pose like a model. That’s all he knew. I hope he’s all right.”

Louis first turned up in a New Year’s Eve 1905 Boston Globe ad for “the famous Little Hooker,” his original Boston Terrier, ready for stud after a year’s experience exhibiting at dog shows. This 13-and-a-half-pound Boston, whom Rudginsky described as “seal brindle, with even white markings, with extra good head, tight screw tail, and very cobby,” was ready to stud for anyone with $10 to pay.

He wasn’t the only Rudginsky advertising Boston Terriers ready for mating; so, too, did his brother Charles, with whom Louis split ownership of Little Hooker and various descendants. They worked together for decades at various tire businesses—until, apparently, some sort of betrayal split them up for good a few years after World War II—and bred dogs in parallel throughout that time. Charles had some luck on the show circuit, but never had a Best of Breed like Louis did. And certainly not a dog on a hot streak like Kid Boots Ace was before his abduction. (Perhaps because Charles never put up the money to buy another of Million Dollar Kid Boots’ offspring.)

Louis married Frances in 1912, and dog breeding was clearly a part of the bargain. Between Little Hooker and Kid Boots Ace there were several Bostons sired by Little Hooker (including Hooker’s Dreadnaught, Hooker’s Fearnot, and, somewhat obviously, Happy Hooker), Big Boy (who took third place at his 1927 Boston Terrier Club Show debut), and Wampagne Little Mose. Along the way a human son, Samuel, was born in 1917, with Army induction, marriage, and three children of his own in his future.

Still, these details didn’t coalesce around an answer to that lingering question, one that made me feel serious discomfort. Dog breeding is a search for purity, a ruthless exercise in culling undesirable qualities. It is the opposite of a melting pot, a rejection of assimilation. Perhaps, for the Rudginskys, breeding Boston Terriers was a way of conquering America, of grappling with whatever anti-Semitism and prejudice was lurking about them.

Boston Terriers are a most American breed. They originated around 1870 in Southborough, Massachusetts, when a pup named Hooper’s Judge—a cross between an English bulldog and an English White Terrier—arrived in the city to mate with an imported female named Burnett’s Gyp (or Kate). Their progeny, Wells’ Eph, was then mated to another early female Boston Terrier, Tobin’s Kate, and subsequent inbreeding solidified the Boston Terrier as a proper lineage, one that was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1891. A decade and a half later, Louis Rudginsky was breeding Bostons and finding his way in the canine world in parallel with his entrenchment within the Jewish community of Winthrop.

Which is why I don’t think it’s mere coincidence, or entirely attributable to age and his health declining in his early 60s, that Louis Rudginsky pared back his involvement in breeding dogs as his son went off to war. Sam fought and suffered serious injury to vanquish those who would take the quest for purebred lineages to the most extreme, horrifying conclusions.

The spring of 1934 turned to summer. Kid Boots Ace had not turned up, and the Rudginskys couldn’t devote more time to look for him. Louis still had to work at Central Tire Company in Boston. Frances occupied herself with the Ladies Auxiliary, chairing monthly meetings, organizing fundraisers, and planning costume dances. Samuel had finished his junior year of high school and had the summer off. And it wasn’t as if Timmie was their only Boston. There were others to take his place at competitions, though perhaps the idea of getting back to shows was too depressing, as they abstained during the warmer months.

Then, on July 27, the telephone rang at 160 Grovers. Paul Schwartz was on the line with a most extraordinary piece of news: Kid Boots Ace was alive, in good health, and on his way back to Winthrop.

The story Schwartz told Louis and Frances was the story he told later that evening in a hastily convened press conference in Chicago. It turned out the mysterious blonde Rudginsky remembered was, in fact, the dognapper—along with her husband, whose voice had communicated the ransom demands. Timmie’s ill health had been quickly restored—how and why, Schwartz did not say—and he had remained in excellent condition throughout his dognapping. But the couple, whose names Schwartz never revealed (and which I, in turn, did not discover) encountered their own turbulence.

Over the previous four months, the relationship had dissolved. As with any dognapping couple in the middle of a breakup, the question had arisen: What was to be done about the dog? They’d taken Kid Boots Ace together, but as individuals, neither wanted the responsibility for raising a Boston Terrier anymore. What seemed like the perfect domestic crime, of harboring someone else’s animal and pretending it was theirs, had reached its expiry date. So, according to Schwartz, they “gave the dog to another person, a Chicagoan, for safe keeping.”

Dog breeding is a search for purity, a ruthless exercise in culling undesirable qualities. It is the opposite of a melting pot, a rejection of assimilation.

This acquaintance soon realized the dog was hot, and did not belong to the couple at all. It was the Boston Terrier whose dognapping had captured national interest—whose sweet, prizewinning face had graced front pages all over the country. Whose ransom had been ignored, but for whom a handsome reward was in the offing should the dog be returned to its proper owner, Louis Rudginsky.

The acquaintance hardly hesitated. He got in touch with Paul Schwartz, provided proof of Timmie’s life and good condition, and got his reward money, leaving Schwartz in charge of Kid Boots Ace. Schwartz alerted the police, but they never found the duo responsible for Timmie’s abduction. What mattered more was his safe return to Winthrop and the Rudginskys, which took place in early August.

The next time Kid Boots Ace’s photograph went over the wires, he looked off into the distance as Frances held him. Her own expression, captured by the camera, betrays some lingering bewilderment, as if she could not quite believe that Timmie was alive, real, safe in her arms at home. One popular caption to the photo cracked that perhaps the Boston “wasn’t glad to be home again, too!” He was, after all, in better health than before his dognapping, no longer food-poisoned and stomach sick.

The hubbub soon died down. The Rudginskys went back to work, and to the competitions. Barely a month after his recovery, Kid Boots Ace was also back on the dog-show circuit, winning the Boston Terrier category at the North Shore Kennel Club Show in Hamilton, Massachusetts. He won Best of Breed at a subsequent show in New Haven, Connecticut, in November.

One year less a day after his abduction, Kid Boots Ace, then three, returned to the scene of the crime, the Hotel Sherman in Chicago. Once more he was one of 125 dogs vying for the grand prize at the Western Boston Terrier show. When the male and Grand Show champions were announced at 8:00 p.m. on the evening of February 24, 1935, the Kid’s winning streak finally snapped. He didn’t even count among the top three finishers.

Neither the newspapers nor the American Kennel Club archives record when Kid Boots Ace died. But he lived long enough to sire more Bostons, including Mischief Maker, Glamorous, and Heiress, and to land Louis Rudginsky in some cross-border trouble in the fall of 1936. Timmie was competing at a competition in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He didn’t win, and Rudginsky took such umbrage that, according to the Boston Globe, he got into a fistfight with the offending judge. Upon Rudginsky’s chastened return to Boston, a customs official assessed Kid Boots Ace’s monetary value at a mere $10—a far cry from the $500 ransom demanded just two years prior.

Louis Rudginsky died in 1966, the same year the federal legislation to curb dognapping for financial gain was passed. By the time a heart attack felled him at the age of 83—three years after his son, Sam, dropped dead from the same malady, and five years before Frances passed away—Louis had stepped away from dog shows, the sight in his remaining eye blighted by a detached retina.

He wasn’t breeding Boston Terriers anymore, either. The Rudginskys, like so many dog breeders in the 1950s, had followed fashion and shifted allegiance to poodles; among their brood was a pair called Bonbon and Foofoo.

Breeders weren’t the only ones to make the switch—so, too, did dognappers. The same year Louis Rudginsky celebrated his last major dog-show triumph, Count Alexis Pulaski, a noted Manhattan-based dog breeder, was experiencing trauma of his own. His prizewinning poodle Masterpiece was dognapped for a ransom in the spring of 1953, snatched in daylight after posing all day in the window of Milgrim’s department store on Fifth Avenue. Because the poodle, which earned $25 an hour to pose, was never recovered, his final fate remains a mystery to this day.

For these dog lovers, the trauma of losing their best mates, even for a scant few days, was no joke. When Joseph Winkler and his wife, visiting New York from Miami Beach in 1958, discovered their six-year-old mixed terrier, Lily, had disappeared from their Upper West Side hotel room, their despair transformed to action upon the receipt of a $1,000 ransom demand. The New York Herald Tribune printed a photo of two men holding signs in search of Lily—one sign in English, one in Spanish. “If you lost a child, could you replace him?” cried Mrs. Winkler in response to a reporter’s callous question. Lily’s fate is lost to history, but that cry resonates decades later.

That’s because dognapping, whether as organized extortion or singular impulse, is more than mere theft, more than regulating unsavory dealers or organized rings or desperate people. It forces humans to think deeply, even uncomfortably, about the monetary value of the pets they hold dear, who love—or who are supposed to love—them unconditionally. Such love is supposed to be priceless. But the crime of dognapping rips away that fiction and demonstrates that, with pet ownership, there is often a very heavy price to pay.

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Archival images courtesy of Our Boston Terriers (G. Farris Squib, 1946) via AKC Library & Archives.

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