A frantic search for a Palatine-area family's golden retriever, Bailee, had been under way for more than a day when even more devastating news came their way.
The Gerdes' 3-year-old pet, who wandered from the Plum Grove Estates home in unincorporated Cook County sometime Saturday morning, was apparently stolen later that afternoon.
"We're just devastated," Mike Gerdes said. "I'm devastated for my four daughters and devastated for my other dog. They're heartbroken."
Neighbor Sunitha Dayaram, who had met Bailee and the family just a couple of days earlier, said she was driving with her husband at 3 p.m. Saturday on Thorntree Lane toward Algonquin Road when they spotted the dog.
Bailee, a light gold color and 52 pounds, was dragging the same leash as when she escaped through a door at Gerdes' house left open by mistake.
Dayaram then saw a woman, between 35 to 40 years old with shorter blond hair, pull a dark-colored compact car into the Frankly Yours restaurant parking lot. She called to the dog, it hopped in and they drove off.
"The way the dog ran into the car, I assumed it was someone from the family," Dayaram said. "I feel terrible because I could have stopped it from happening."
Gerdes, who filed a police report, said family members have plastered the area with fliers and contacted every police department, animal hospital, veterinarian and shelter in the area.
They also notified Bailee's breeder, Candy Nee of Forever Goldens in Wisconsin, who helped launch a series of alerts. About 700 people have liked or shared the notice about Bailee on the Lost Dogs Illinois Facebook page.
"You could see right away this was a family that was going to take care of the dog and love it," said Nee, adding that Bailee comes from champion blood lines. "You'd hate to think someone is trying to turn around and sell her."
Gerdes urged anyone with information to call him at (847) 612-1675. There's a reward and he'll pick up the dog "no questions asked."
He said his daughter, Alli, just turned 10 and doesn't want anything for her birthday except Bailee's return.
"I love Bailee," said Alli, who'll enter fifth grade at St. Thomas of Villanova School in Palatine. "I'm really sad because she's a part of the family and she's gone."