A puppy was missing. So was a customer.
Trudy Eacret, manager at Puppy and Kitty Nursery pet store on Ulmerton Road, noticed these facts immediately after she heard a side door to the business swing shut Wednesday afternoon.
Customers normally wouldn't use that door, so Eacret went to investigate.
That's when she noticed that a white and black Great Dane puppy was gone from his play area. And she noticed a group of three customers had dwindled to two. Store employees recognized the two men because they had been in the store twice before, looking at puppies.
Eacret told the men: "Your friend stole a puppy, and you're not leaving until the police get here."
Employees locked the doors and called Largo police. While an officer was talking with employees and the men, one of the men's cell phones rang. The man answered it, then handed it to the officer.
It was the suspected puppy pilferer.
"While the police were talking to his buddy, his cell phone rings and he talked to him for a second, then gave the phone to the policeman," Eacret said.
Police later arrested Adam A. Herubin, 19, on a charge of grand theft. Police said they found him wandering his neighborhood with the 8-week-old puppy in tow.
The Great Dane puppy, valued at $995, was returned to the pet store thirsty but unharmed. The little canine slurped up a lot of water when employees placed him back in his playpen, Eacret said.
"He was okay. He was hot and very thirsty. That's a lot for a little puppy," Eacret said.
Herubin was being held at the Pinellas County Jail on Thursday in lieu of $1,500 bail.
Police didn't arrest his two friends. Instead, prosecutors will decide whether to charge them with a crime, police said.
Eacret said the men may have developed some puppy love for an American bulldog during their previous visits to the store. But that puppy had sold by the time they arrived Wednesday.
Eacret said puppy-nappings occur more often than one might think, maybe once per year at the store. She said thieves sometimes get away with it but usually are caught.
"We do our very best to pay attention and watch them and have been quite lucky," Eacret said. "Our main thing is to take care of these puppies. We take it very seriously. They're like our children here."
In March 2001, a woman was arrested for swiping an $840 kitten from another Largo pet store. She also was charged with grand theft and later was sentenced to 18 months of probation.
Eacret said when Herubin slipped out the side door with the puppy, he left behind his car, his cell phone and his keys.
When he called his friend's cell phone, officers told him to meet them at the Sheriff's Office building on Ulmerton Road. But Herubin was a no-show.
Officers began to scour the neighborhood near Herubin's Valencia Drive neighborhood in Largo and found him walking with the puppy.
Herubin told officers he had found the puppy outside after it escaped from the pet store on its own. He said he was taking it home to give it some water, said Graham, the police spokesman.
"His side of the story didn't really add up," Graham said.
_ Chris Tisch can be reached at 445-4156 or tischsptimes.com.
Jayne Jones, a sales manager at Puppy and Kitty Nursery on Ulmerton Road in Largo, nuzzles the 8-week-old Great Dane that disappeared from the store Wednesday. The puppy was returned hot and thirsty but unharmed.