Social media sics suspects after dog disappears

dprice@thestate.comJuly 17, 2013 

Three aspiring beauticians landed in the doghouse for their roles in the theft of a 6-week-old, black-and-white beagle-mix puppy from a West Columbia shelter last week.

Amanda Kay Cirmella, 26, of Batesburg-Leesville, Megan Marie Howard, 22, of Aiken, and Brittany Leigh Yountz, 19, of Gilbert, were charged with petit larceny, accused of stealing the puppy named Liberty July 9 from Pets Inc. in West Columbia, according to Lexington County Sheriff James Metts.

The cosmetology-school friends turned themselves in to the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department Wednesday, after Pets Inc. posted surveillance footage to Facebook and YouTube Monday showing the three suspects in the store, Metts said.

According to the video’s narrator, two of the women kept a lookout or distracted shelter employees while the third scooped up the pup and walked out of the building with Liberty hidden in an apron.

Liberty, who was returned to and later adopted from the shelter Tuesday, was the second puppy stolen this month from the shelter off Sunset Boulevard. Justice, a 3-month-old St. Bernard, was stolen July 8 in a separate incident, and was also returned and adopted Tuesday, according to Pets Inc. vice president Jane Brundage. Video surveillance was taken of three suspects walking out of the shelter with Justice; the investigation is continuing.

Also Monday, the shelter posted a second video showing three other suspects walking out of the shelter with Justice before anyone could notice what they were doing.

The community played a big part in the dogs being returned, Brundage said. Not even an hour after the video was posted Monday, people started calling with tips about the dogs’ locations and descriptions of the suspects.

“This has shown us that we have resources because we have friends,” she said. “It’s uplifting that we have so much support.”

Thefts at Pets Inc. have been pretty rare. Of the more than 55,000 pets the shelter has placed in homes over the years, she can only remember six that were stolen. Each of those animals was later returned to the shelter, as well.

Anyone with information about Justice should call CrimeStoppers, (888) CRIME-SC.

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