Minn. woman accused of Pierce County dognapping

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A Minneapolis woman accused of stealing an Ellsworth-area dog pleaded not guilty to a criminal charge last week, arguing she rescued the animal.

The Pierce County District Attorney's Office charged 58-year-old Holly L. Neff with one count of dognapping, a misdemeanor offense that carries a maximum penalty of nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Neff made her first appearance Oct. 23 in Pierce County Circuit Court, where she was released on a signature bond after entering the not-guilty plea.

The charge stemmed from a June 21 incident in the town of Ellsworth after a 570th Avenue resident reported his 2-year-old black lab was missing.

According to a criminal complaint:

The complainant, who works in the insurance industry, told a Pierce County sheriff's deputy he got a call from an anonymous woman asking for a life insurance quote. The man said the request was odd since people don't call up seeking such quotes. He was also struck by the caller's purported age — 21 — telling authorities the woman sounded older.

The complainant went to the appointment. The caller requesting the quote didn't show.

He returned home to find his dog missing.

The complainant named Neff as a possible suspect.

On June 28, sheriff's dispatchers took a call at 11:10 p.m. from a woman seeking to report animal neglect at a 570th Avenue property. After describing alleged conditions of horses there, she said she had removed a dog from the property. The dog had been seized by Minneapolis police, the woman told dispatchers.

A deputy investigated and spoke with the woman, who identified herself as Neff. She said she wanted it on the record that she rescued, not stole, the dog.

Neff told deputies she used to work for the complainant and became aware of animals living on his properties. She was subpoenaed for a court hearing on June 13 and inspected the 570th Avenue property afterward.

Neff told deputies she witnessed an underfed dog and horses there, prompting her to feed the dog McDonald's cheeseburgers. The animals were without water, the woman reported.

She said she returned to the property a few days later.

"Holly stated it was at that time she did 'rescue' the dog and take it with her to Minneapolis," the complaint states.

At one point in the intervening days, she returned home to find a note on her door from Minneapolis police saying the dog had been seized as part of a theft case.

Deputies went to the 570th Avenue property on June 29 to inspect the horses. No problems were observed. The deputy also reported seeing a dog kennel that contained water for the animal.

A pretrial conference in the case was set for Nov. 28.