Stockton can be a mean town. Just ask Poway resident Cynthia Niswonger.
Niswonger’s family vacation return trip from Oregon took a detour of the worst sort about 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 11 outside the McDonalds at 611 West Charter Way, Stockton. That is when a thief broke the lock on her green 2000 Ford Focus hatchback and stole the car.
Complicating the theft was the fact Niswonger left her 12-year-old autistic son Neeko’s companion dog, Sloan, in the locked vehicle with the air conditioning running as the family made quick use of the fast food restaurant’s bathroom facilities.
Thief with car in tow apparently headed that’away from Interstate 5 west on Clay Street. Authorities on Monday recovered the vehicle about eight miles away at American and West 8th Street near I-5, south of downtown Stockton.
Sloan, however, was nowhere to be found.
Niswonger “kept eyes on the car until she quickly used the restroom,” according to a “Get Sloan back for Neeko” GoFundMe page posted by friends. “When she walked out with Neeko, she saw a man who had broken the window and was driving away. She ran and screamed for him to ‘leave my dog.’ He got away with the car, Neeko’s iPad (which is his main form of communication as he is autistic), all their luggage and worst of all, their sweet dog Sloan.”
Appealing for help on social media, just before the vehicle was located, Niswonger added, “The cops care but can’t focus on a dog. I’ve told them the car is the last thing I care about. Neeko and I won’t leave until we can visit the shelters, vets, and rescues tomorrow.
“I Posted online,” Niswonger continued. “Stockton animal lovers have been crazy kind. But pray. It is also a ‘really bad area for those not interested in doing well.’ I feel so bad for Sloan. We Ubered looking for her in the worst of places calling her name. I spoke to homeless and disenfranchised putting the word out I just want the dog. But it isn’t safe for us to do more. We’ve had to give up for tonight. Please pray.”
As anyone who has been there can tell, Stockton is one of the roughest towns in California, notorious for its poverty and sky-high crime rates.
As of April, 15, in 2019, Stockton, a city of 320,000 residents, had suffered nine homicides, 250 robberies and 732 assaults for the year. The FBI said Stockton was the 10th most dangerous city in the U.S., according to CBS News.
“We have seen an increase (in crime) and that’s concerning to us here at the police department so that’s why we’re sitting down, analyzing the data to see exactly why we’re seeing an increase,” Stockton Police Officer Joe Silva said to Sacramento’s Fox 40 News. “This year we had a double homicide and a triple homicide. Unacceptable.”
Some prayers were answered when authorities located the car. Sloan’s whereabouts, however, represented prayers unanswered.
“The car was found and they dusted for prints,” Niswonger said. “Could be the first 2000 Ford Focus ever to be fingerprinted. Plus the tape from Mcdonalds’s and the security cameras on a house right next to the car are being pulled. I’m still praying for Sloan to be found.”
Meanwhile, the dog snatching turned into an Internet and media sensation overnight. Several Sacramento and San Francisco Bay Area television news outlets covered the story along with ABC News with accounts ranging as far away as London’s Daily Mail tabloid.
They wrote that Sloan was wearing a pink halter and leash with a collar and bone shaped tag that bears her name and contact information.
A fundraiser has also been launched to help the family raise $1,000 which will be offered as a reward to anyone who can reunited them with Sloan. As of Tuesday evening $1,170 was raised from 16 people over 12 hours.
Around 200 people have shared Niswonger’s posts so far in a bid to help more people know that their dog is missing, according to the Daily Mail.
Lisa D’Amico-Wier wrote: ‘Sending good vibes that she will be home and your guys arms very soon. Prayers.’
‘My heart is breaking for you and Neeko. I wish I could do more to help. I’m sharing and praying he’s found,’ commented Debbi De Ru.
Another user, Shelly Heimer added: ‘Fingers crossed for Sloan and neekos voice.’
Kate Frey replied: ‘I’m so sorry! I hope you still get her back.’