Otis the pug missing poster

Video footage points to inside job in theft of Otis the pug, a dog with 25K Instagram followers


Steve — we’ll call him Steve — sits on the new, two-ton, intentionally uncomfortable stone bench at the 16th Street BART Plaza meant to frustrate homeless sleepers. He takes a drag off his cigarette. The whole world appears to be in motion here, but we’re sitting still — though it is hard to keep from slipping off this profoundly uncomfortable bench. 

He’s confused as to why I have sought him out. “I don’t understand the fascination with this,” he tells me quietly. “The question isn’t why I did what I did. The question is: Why should this be seen as so strange?” 

A lady’s dog was stolen. Steve found it. No big deal. 

Then he turned down the reward. Which was $15,000.

Also: He’s homeless. 

Nest footage reveals Otis the pug being removed from the apartment at 2:11 p.m. on Sept. 11.

Steve exhales a cloud of smoke and slowly gestures at the other men and women on the plaza. Every one of them looks like he or she could use $15,000. “People look at the folks out here. They don’t know our stories. They assume a whole lot.” 

And that’s a mistake. 

“This,” he continues, “is the way I was raised, man.” The reward would be life-changing, but Steve could not in good conscience accept what he calls “a ridiculous amount of money.” Not for just doing the right thing. Not for doing what he’d do anyway. 

He shakes his head. “I don’t know why the world is so selfish. I just wanted to help someone.” 

He lets the thought hang for a moment, and turns to look me in the eye. “Why is the world so fucked-up that this is considered an unusual act?” he asks. 

I have no answer for him. 

Kelly Fitch is overcome with emotion after the roller-coaster recovery of Otis the pug.

The strange and terrible saga of Otis the pug’s theft and recovery began at 2:11 p.m. on Sept. 11 and ended at 6:30 a.m. on Sept. 12. The interregnum was the worst 16 hours of Kelly Fitch’s life. 

Fitch, 27, is an event planner. Until the end of September she lived in a postage-stamp-sized, rent-controlled apartment on Valencia Street. It’s remarkably clean and so small that there’s no table to sit at for her to recount those dark 16 hours. Fitch sits on her bed and I sit on her floor. 

If you lose anything in an apartment of this size, you’ll find it in two minutes or it’s not going to be found. And, on Sept. 11, Otis the pug wasn’t there when Fitch opened the door. Nothing else was missing. There were no signs of breaking or entering. The 20-pound beastie had, apparently, pulled a Houdini. Or, more likely, someone opened the door and took him. Regardless, he was gone. 

Fitch was horrified. And, to boot, the 7-year-old dog’s 25,000 Instagram followers were horrified, too. 

“I don’t make any money off Otis’ Instagram,” Fitch tells me. “People just enjoy looking at pictures of him.” Well, of course they do. He is a delightfully ridiculous creature and a living stuffed animal. 

But now he was gone. 

Fitch informed her family members. She informed her friends. And, notably, she informed Otis’ friends. And they delivered. Fliers with his adorable likeness were created and disseminated throughout the Mission. And if this pug’s picture didn’t turn your head, the promised reward would: $15,000. 

Now, that’s a lot of money. That’s a lot of money. That’s a metric shitload of money.  

Fitch’s friends told her “don’t do that.” She did that. 

“That is a big chunk of money. That would’ve hurt my savings. But it would’ve hurt more to not get Otis back.” She’d heard stories of pugs going on the black market for thousands of dollars. She wanted to stave off this possibility. At nearly any cost. 

Fitch didn’t feel comfortable in an apartment where someone apparently so effortlessly absconded with her pug, so she spent the night at the home of her friend, Ericka Castle. Nobody slept. There was much lamentation and fruitless refreshing of Web browsers in hopes of a message or tip. None came. 

But, then, at 5:30 a.m., Fitch’s cell rang. 

“Now, hear me out,” said the deep voice on the other end of the line. “I know this dog means a lot to you. I can tell from the poster the dog means a lot to you. I believe I’ve seen it.” The man asked Fitch to meet him at the gas station at Mission and 14th — like, now. And then he hung up.

Heading out in the pre-dawn hours to meet a total stranger at a gas station when you’ve advertised a $15,000 reward for a dog is not the most well-advised thing to do. Fitch’s friends told her “Don’t do that.” She did that. 

Castle tagged along. They arranged that their friend, Cesar, would also meet them en route to his early-morning kitchen job. 

And, in the oasis of light at the Arco station, there was Steve. 

Steve approached Fitch. “I know you don’t trust me,” he said. “So take my ID.” He handed her his driver’s license. He asked only Cesar to come with him — the women felt Steve was watching out for their safety here — and the two men went off to the nearby homeless encampment to retrieve Otis the pug. 

This was not a pleasant time for Fitch. Five minutes became 10, 10 became 20. The sun rose and Steve returned with information — but not Otis. The dog wasn’t where he’d been before. But they were told he’d been dropped off in a large tub by a strangely emotionless woman — young-looking with dark hair — who simply said she didn’t want her dog anymore. The homeless woman in the tent was happy to take the pug, but she didn’t think it added up: “How can you not care about a dog that’s so cute?” 

Fitch was setting herself up to be disappointed. Maybe there would be a dog, but it wouldn’t be Otis. She’d take care of that dog. That’s not the worst outcome. And then a homeless woman walked around the corner with a pug in her arms. It was Otis. 

“I have never had a crazier swing of emotions,” says Fitch’s friend Castle. “This was one of the wildest nights of my life.” 

And it got wilder. When Fitch began to ask Steve how she could get him his reward, he said not to bother. He turned it down. 

But that wasn’t the last surprise. 

Surveillance footage recorded shortly after the theft of Otis the pug reveals this woman walking toward the homeless encampment where he’d be recovered the next day. This bin, in which Otis was delivered, remains at the encampment — and bears a striking resemblance to the one carried by the woman in the surveillance footage.

We know Otis the pug was taken at 2:11 p.m. on Sept. 11 because the Nest camera in Fitch’s apartment reveals her door opening after someone rattles through a number of incorrect keys. The pug emerges from the closet, and, within a minute or so, out he goes. 

Well, that narrows down the suspect pool quite a bit. With that, it went from everyone in the city to Fitch’s dog-walker or resident manager. And another building resident’s Nest camera reveals the resident manager’s door slamming at nearly exactly 2:11 p.m. 

But wait — there’s more: Video from neighboring businesses Fitch rounded up herself reveals a woman — who, for all the world, resembles her resident manager — walking toward the homeless camp where Otis was recovered. These videos were recorded at  2:22 and 2:27 p.m., and the woman is carrying a large black-and-yellow tub — a tub identical to the one at the homeless encampment in which Otis was dropped off. 

And, finally, there’s history here. Fitch had complained, repeatedly, about her resident manager’s habit of smoking in the hallways and leaving the building doors open, so anyone could wander in off Valencia — she worried Otis the pug might run off. Or, perhaps, someone would steal him.

There were other things, too: Fitch says the resident manager had a habit of skulking down the halls, talking to herself, and wearing her clothes inside-out. A cursory Internet search finds someone with the same name as the manager penning multiple posts in which she claims to have had “internal implants” clandestinely placed into her body as part of “government or occult programming.” 

On a recent Wednesday, I approached the manager, who was smoking in the building’s exterior hallway. I asked the woman — young-looking with dark hair — if she had played a role in the theft of her neighbor’s dog. 

“It’s complicated,” she replied. “I’m being set up for things I didn’t do.” 

She claimed she had to go, on her own volition, to speak to the police and “give them the real story.” She took my card. “Maybe I’ll contact you afterward.”

She hasn’t yet. 


This woman’s apartment was 10 feet from Kelly Fitch’s. Fitch decided this was untenable and moved out at the end of last month. 

Fitch’s sister contacted attorney Joe Tobener on her behalf, and he took the case. Expect legal action regarding a constructive eviction — “being forced out because of some situation at the property that is unsafe” — this month, the attorney says. “This,” he continues, “is a really common type of lawsuit we file.” 

At least something about this case is common. 

Fitch’s housing ordeal leaves Steve — who, again, is unhoused — fuming. “She’s become like a baby sister to me.” 

But Fitch is going to be okay. So is Otis. They’ve moved in with Ericka Castle. And maybe, just maybe, Steve will be okay, too. He didn’t want Fitch’s $15,000. But he has acquiesced to smaller gestures. A night in a motel here, a set of work tools there. But, most of all, he just appreciates Fitch for who she is. 

“She is someone positive in my life when I don’t have a lot of positive people in my life.” 

He rises off the stone bench and wanders into the 16th and Mission crowd. But he turns to offer some parting advice: “You never know when you’ll be talking to an angel.” 

Steve found a dog. But he found more than that. 

“Finding Kelly,” he says, “was a blessing.” 

He smiles. And then he’s gone. 

Joe Eskenazi

Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. “Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior...

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36 Comments

    1. What an incredibly moving story, thank you so much for writing it. Random acts of kindness ensures the world isn’t completely f* up yet. In the words of Lenny Kravitz, ” We’ve Gotta Let Love Rule”!!!! Many blessing to everyone with involved in Otis’s safe return.

  1. Thank you from the heart to yours. Yes I do believe there are Angel’s all around. Beautiful heart warming story that ends with hope. Yet a new beginning for steve:)!

  2. Damn. This is such a happy ever after, emotional rollercoaster ride, sad but uplifting story.
    Quotes at the end are excellent.
    So happy for Kelly and Otis ?
    And for Steve!
    X

  3. I’ve had resident manager’s and maintenance personnel, invade, and steal from my rental also. Finally I purchased locked file cabinets, and did every security measure I could think of. It’s like the wild , wild west in the Bay Area, anymore.

  4. Joe, An absolutely beautiful article! Went straight to our hearts. Brought tears to our eyes. Perhaps the world may make it after all, thanks to guys like Steve, and you. I hope karma brings the rewards to Steve, that he truly deserves.

    My wife had a pug called Banjo, and my daughter-in-law previously had a pug named Otis, and presently has a pair of pugs. We’ re hooked.

    Have a great day!

    Robert

    1. I am the breeder of Otis and I can without a shadow of a doubt say that Kelly is the very best possible home I could have ever found for him! I am beyond relieved and amazed at how things have happened since Otis was stolen. Steve……..whoever you are and where ever you are I hope I can meet you one day because you truly are an angel in the flesh! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping Kelly when she and Otis needed you the most!

      1. Hi Terri!
        I am looking for a reputable breeder of pugs. If possible, please privately email and let me know what part of the country you reside.
        Thanks so much,
        Sherri

  5. I’m wondering how a 27-year-old event planner has $15k to spare. Nothing against trust funds; just wondering.

    1. Are you suggesting that young women with a certain position aren’t capable of hard work or being fiscally responsible? I’ve been working and saving since I was 10 years old. Please take your ill advised comments elsewhere.

      1. Thank you, @Kelly F… haters gonna hate. Your sharing Otis with the world and the beautiful and respectful interactions you have with Steve tell us about the loving person you are. Keep spreading the light, and also fully and respectfully calling out the naysayers!

    2. have you heard the word ‘saving’?
      can you imagine that there are people not living on their c/c, that means on borrowed money?
      can you believe that there are people not spending money on all things unnecessary?

  6. I think they should seek a settlement with the landlord where Steve gets to live in Kelly’s old apartment for free for one year.

  7. Sounds like the resident manager is soon to join the ranks of the homeless. Not discounting the crime she committed, but it sounds like she needs some serious help. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get help for people at this stage before they end up on the streets?

  8. Great job! But this story has everything you need: a mystery, an unsolved crime, adorable animals, honor and charity… If you could just find a romance somewhere in it, Hallmark could make a movie!

  9. WELCOME HOME OTIS?? IM SO HAPPY YOUR HOME SAFE :::::MAY YOU NEVER BE FAR FROM YOUR HOME AGAIN WITHOUT FAMILY

  10. James Otis Jr. of Barnstable Mass. was one of the most important pre- Revolutionary figures. He was a brilliant attorney and orator. It is appropriate that the pug might be named in his honor. The elevator Otis was not the same family.

  11. What a great story. Thank you for telling it so well. These popular breeds (pugs, Boston terriers, French bulldogs, Yorkies, too, among others) can indeed bring $1000s on the street/Craigslist so she had reason to be worried. The motive here seems different, and weird, though…

  12. This was a great read, and I’m very happy that Otis is home. Why was Kelly mortified to find Otis missing though?

  13. I want this to be a feel good story and it’s no fault of the reporter but I find it odd that we’re celebrating Otis being home and “Steve”’s selflessness — but, in the end, Steve still doesn’t have a roof over his head. I know Otis’ owner pooled together money for gift cards (from her, now increased number of Instagram followers) but this story still leaves me sad. I don’t expect one person to change the world but maybe some of that 15k can be used to get “Steve” some more solid help besides gift cards? Or maybe donate that money to the San Francisco Homeless Outreach Team and contact them to help Steve? I’m a pug owner. I totally would be lost if something happened to my guy but I just want to make sure Steve is helped too.

  14. Joe, you have captured the true heart of the city!
    This story love, heartbreak and hope brought me back to my roots.
    Growing up in San Francisco 60’s & 70’s reminded me of what is meant by ‘true heart’.
    Back then times were relaxed, less convuluted as they are now and Steve’s response and actions
    are representative of how life is meant to be.
    Living to appreciate all that we have without asking for reward is simply a grace of loves joy.
    We all should be so lucky to behold a piece of Steve’s peace of mind.
    Thank you for covering this beautiful heart warming story.
    Indeed an Angel had been found 🙂

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