Lana Whitner, a Marine corps veteran, and her family were travelling from Illinois to Florida for a family vacation earlier this week. Their service dog, Wrigley, was tagging along as per usual. Whitner stopped off for a pit-stop during the long drive, when to her and the family’s shock, the SUV they were driving was stolen. Wrigley was taken, along with the vehicle. Justin Lawrence, a police officer involved in the investigation, spoke with CBS News regarding the vehicle theft incident, and how the police department’s social media plea went viral, ultimately leading to the discovery and rescue of Wrigley.
Three car thieves jumped into the Whitner SUV as soon as Lana and her family exited the vehicle, attested officer Lawrence. Lana and her family immediately phoned the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) to report the theft. Once authorities became involved, they were fortunate enough to be able to utilize the Apple app “Find My iPhone” since Lana’s daughter had left her smartphone inside the vehicle. Because of this, authorities were able to locate the SUV on the east side of Indianapolis. Lawrence commented to CBS about locating the vehicle and the suspects.
“We approached the vehicle and the suspects had already fled the scene. I don’t know if they saw us and ran off, but we later caught two of the three suspects.”
When Lawrence and his partner found the SUV, nearly all of the Whitners’ belongings were still inside, including the daughter’s cell phone and the family laptop. Wrigley, on the other hand, was missing and nowhere to be seen in the immediate vicinity of the vehicle. Some money had also been taken from the family vehicle.
#IMPDNOW: @USMC Veteran had vehicle stolen with Service Dog, Wrigley (2), inside on south side. Vehicle was recovered on east side of #Indy w/o Wrigley. Wrigley is a Rhodesian Ridgeback mix and is chipped. This is not just a dog, it’s family. Please help locate! #Breaking pic.twitter.com/jMjvDFepGv— IMPD (@IMPDnews) July 17, 2018
After finding out that Lana and her husband, Tim, were both veterans such as himself, Lawrence felt a connection, as he also served in the Marines for 17 years. He told reporters that he would have helped the family regardless, but the veteran background made the case special to him.
Wrigley was a service dog trained to sense oncoming seizures and migraine headache, Lana told authorities.
“He’s my lifeline right now.”
Lawrence and the IMPD got a picture of Wrigley from Lana’s daughter. An email was sent out to the entire department, saying, “Hey guys, do me a favor and share this with whoever…. Let’s get it out there and find this dog.” Jim Gillespie, sergeant of the IMPD, requested permission to post the dog’s photograph to social media, to which the Whitner family agreed. Within hours, the post had gone viral. News stations even picked the story up. Many people called in, claiming to have spotted the dog, but it wasn’t until officials heard from a gas station attendant that they viewed surveillance footage and witnessed Wrigley on camera.
In the end, the Whitner family and the IMPD were able to track Wrigley down by walking the neighborhood and leaving one of Tim’s shirts on the ground to lure the dog out of hiding. It worked, and IMPD has shared footage of Wrigley barreling toward Tim in excitement in a heartwarming reunion.