For days, Rachel Avery could barely eat or sleep, staying by the door each night in case someone returned her French bulldog, recently snatched from her porch in West Hollywood.
Then, on Friday, she got a call: Law enforcement told her they had the number of a man suspected of taking the brown dog named Jag.
Avery, 44, contacted the man — who confirmed he had the young dog — and arranged to meet him that night in Philadelphia, where he lives.
When Avery saw Jag in the airport, she dropped to her knees. A video of their reunion shows her hugging the pup at baggage claim as he grunts and squirms with joy.
"I missed you so much! I love you so much!" she exclaims.
"I just couldn't believe the miracle that took place," Avery said Tuesday, after returning to Los Angeles with Jag.
Jag slipped out of his collar around 5:18 p.m. on Jan. 9 while Avery's friend was watching him and bolted toward home via Sunset Boulevard and Harper Avenue, she said.
As the dog ran, Avery said, three men in a black luxury SUV spotted him and began yelling that he was their dog, asking for help to chase him down.
Bystanders pointed out where the dog was — on Avery's porch on De Longpre Avenue — and the men snatched him, said Avery, who was running around the neighborhood looking for Jag after her friend told her he'd gotten loose.
Because the men were in a rental car, authorities were able to get the renter's contact information, said Det. Juan Bonilla of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Bonilla texted the number, assuring the recipient that charges would be dropped if the dog was returned — a condition Avery had included on a reward flier.
A man called Bonilla and said he did not steal the dog but picked him up out of concern because he was running in the street with no owner in sight.
Bonilla gave the man's number to Avery, who was adamant about flying across the country to get her dog back, he said.
"I did tell her … it was going to be on her own will," Bonilla said, "and also to make sure that she met with the gentleman at the airport — where there's law enforcement and other people around."
Avery flew to Philadelphia with the friend who had been walking Jag when he got loose, and they alerted security when they arrived.
Fearing retribution, Avery declined to name the man but said he appeared to be in his 20s. She believes the men with him when Jag was taken were his relatives, based on what he told her.
She said he looked "very remorseful" when he saw how happy the dog was to see her.
When they reunited, Jag had been off his medication for five days. He was itchy and had diarrhea and a runny nose. Now he's sleeping a lot and "super glued to me," said Avery, a clinical psychology student.
Avery will not pursue charges but wouldn't comment on whether she paid the $5,000 reward she had offered.
She said her efforts to retrieve Jag cost about $7,500 and has launched a GoFundMe campaign to recoup the money.
Jag is one of several French bulldogs taken from their owners in recent months in the Los Angeles area. Past incidents have involved violent robberies targeting the dogs, which can fetch a high price on the black market.
A pair of Lady Gaga’s French bulldogs were abducted in February in Hollywood after her dog walker was shot in the chest. Her assistant recovered from his injuries, the dogs were returned, and five people were arrested in connection with the crimes.
About three weeks ago, West Hollywood interior designer Robert Marinelli was dragged roughly 200 yards by a car driving away with his 8-year-old French bulldog, Luca. Marinelli was left bloody and shaken, his phone smashed.
Earlier in December, a woman was robbed at gunpoint of her French bulldog not far from where Gaga’s dog walker was attacked, authorities said.
Thieves often sell the dogs quickly, in plain view, on Hollywood Boulevard, Melrose Avenue, the Venice Beach boardwalk and at other locations, said Los Angeles Police Department Officer Tim Talman.
Marek Utikao, 43, said he was walking his dog with a friend Jan. 9 on De Longpre when he saw the black SUV turn onto the street after Jag, who was running.
A delivery driver asked one of the men in the SUV if he was looking for a dog, Utikao said, and the man said he was. Thinking the man was Jag's owner, both the driver and Utikao pointed him in the dog's direction, Utikao said.
Two men chased after the dog, then grabbed him from a porch area and quickly brought him back to the SUV, Utikao said.
As the men were returning to the car, Utikao's friend turned to him and said, "You know that was a French bulldog, right?" a nod to the recent thefts.
"Don't say that," he told his friend. "I didn't think about that."
Less than a minute later, they spotted another man running down a nearby street, shouting that he had lost his dog.
The incident has rattled Utikao and his friend, who did not want to be identified. He said he's scared to go out alone with his dog, a poodle and bichon frisé mix known as a poochon.
Avery was taking precautions prior to the theft — walking Jag only in the dog park and around other people. She carried mace.
Now she's going further. Because of the attention drawn by the case, she has arranged for Jag to stay outside the L.A. area for at least six months. He'll be outfitted with a GPS device and will stroll only with his "big sister" — a 120-pound Rottweiler.
Avery said she was happy to be reunited with Jag, who she called "the sweetest, kindest, funniest boy."
"He's just like a snuggle buddy," she said. "He's also super stubborn, which is why he got away. Because as soon as he got outside, he didn't want to be with that guy" — her friend who was watching him — "he wanted to be with his mom."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.