Sunday, May 19

Lake Park family reunited with dog that vanished 8 months ago

A Lake Park family said their dog was stolen eight months ago, but with the help of social media, they were reunited with their beloved pet this week.

On July 12, Jairisheila Gomez and her family were cleaning their house and their dog, Elsa, was sitting on the porch soaking in the sun.

The family said they checked on the dog several times while cleaning, but when they went to bring her into the house, they noticed she wasn’t there anymore.

Gomez, who is the mother of three children, at first thought the dog had wandered off but later found something that changed her mind.

“About two or three days later, we found her collar in the bushes,” Gomez said. “We knew that she was taken. We were devastated. It was the worst feeling ever. It’s like your child. We couldn’t sleep. We couldn’t eat, and we felt terrible.”

While Gomez and her family remained hopeful they would find Elsa, they grew even sadder as the weeks and months passed.

Then, on Jan. 21, Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control got a call from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office of a tip from a good Samaritan about a dog that was found and appeared to be in distress.

“She wasn’t in great shape,” Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control spokeswoman Arielle Weinberger said. “She had a make-shift collar and leash around her neck made out of shoelaces that were restricting fluid from her head, causing a bit of swelling.”

According to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, a caller saw the suspect, later identified as Jonathan Nichols, 30, walking Elsa. Investigators said Nichols had changed Elsa’s name to Lola.

Deputies said that when they ordered Nichols to stop and talk to them, he began walking quickly and said he did not need to speak to them because “he was not doing anything wrong” and wasn’t going to stop.

They said he then tried reaching for his right pocket.

When deputies were able to arrest Nichols, they found a Glock 48 pistol in the same pocket that he reached for several times.

Once in handcuffs, Nichols reportedly refused to let go of the dog’s makeshift collar, causing deputies to cut the leash from his hands.

Deputies said Nichols claimed he found the dog three months before he was arrested and had lost her leash, so he created the shoestring leash and had her wear it for the past three days.

“Our clinic staff was able to get her taken care of, and after about three days, the swelling had greatly reduced, and she was doing a lot better,” Weinberger said.

Once healed, Palm Beach Animal Care posted Elsa and her story on their Facebook page.

“My friend sent me the article, and I was like, ‘That really looks like my dog.’ Then I looked at the video that the photography people put up, and then I was like, ‘Oh my God. That’s my dog.'”

Gomez called her husband and told him that Elsa had been found.

“I zoomed over there with my kids,” Gomez said. “I was a mess. I showed them the proof that it was my dog. I went back. They gave me the kennel number, and when I went back there, she immediately recognized us.”

The family owns two dogs and said that while Elsa was gone, their second dog was experiencing depression. They shared a video with WPTV of the moment the two were reunited.

Twenty-four hours after getting their dog back, the family thanked Animal Care and Control for their work and shared their disgust with Nichols.

“I wouldn’t even call him an animal because animals don’t even act like that,” Gomez said. “This guy, he abused her, shoelaces around the neck, and God knows what else he did to her. That’s insane. It was heartbreaking.”

Nichols faces charges of cruelty to animals while in possession of a firearm, carrying a concealed firearm while committing a felony and resisting an officer without violence.

Online court records show he pleaded not guilty to the charges on Feb. 16.

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