What is social media? To combine a dozen definitions, “Social Media is the collection of the Internet, cellular, and various technological tools and online platforms and applications available to help individuals and businesses accelerate their information and communication needs.” The key word here is “accelerate.”

Lt. Jay Hollins

It’s an owner’s worst nightmare for a pet to go missing, or worse, or to have it stolen. Recently, just days before she was to leave for Texas, young professional polo player Malicia von Falkenhausen and her boyfriend parked her truck in the lot behind the Salamander Market to pick up dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Leaving her truck for just a brief time, the air condition running and windows partly down, they returned in horror to find her dogs Tuka and Cash gone. The thieves had rifled through her truck, but as it had been cleaned out that morning, nothing other than the dogs was taken. The police were called immediately and Lt. Jay Hollins was assigned the case.

September 6, 9:16 pm: On her Facebook page that night, Malicia posts several photographs of Tuka, her Jack Russell Terrier puppy, and Cash, her 1 1/2-year-old Catahoula hound, and writes:

“STOLEN- Please keep a look-out for my dogs. They have been stolen from the Salamander Market parking lot. I am desperately trying to find them. I am heartbroken. Please call 540-xxx-xxxx”

She immediately shared or forwarded, the post with the local Facebook pages Middleburg, VA; Middleburg Uncensored; the Middleburg Police Department; Pawboost.com; area animal shelters; and Lost & Found Dogs – DC Metro Area. A second post shortly after that offered a $2,000 reward for information leading to their return. Within 24 hours, the news of the theft had “gone viral.” Sharing posts from one’s page to another resulted in thousands of people far beyond Middleburg seeing the post in lightning speed.

Within 24 hours, Cash was found. Dumped on Gallows Road and Hwy 50 near Fairfax, he was picked up and taken to the Fairfax Animal Shelter. Aside from a minor injury to his leg, he was in good condition, and as the shelter had Malicia’s post, and matching his microchip information, the two were reunited that day. But Tuka was still missing and not microchipped, a fact that intensified the heartache.

On September 7, 10:39 am: On the Middleburg Police Department’s Facebook page, an update is posted:

“UPDATE … ONLY THE JACK RUSSELL TERRIER (the smaller pup) IS STILL MISSING. WE ARE STILL SEEKING ANY INFORMATION ON THE THEFT …

… To the person(s) who took them. We understand that you “may” have thought that you were doing the right thing because they were left in a vehicle. What you did was to commit a felony. Actually two or more.

Our concern is for the safe return of the dogs. Nothing would be better than to see them left at the PD front door. Do the right thing. Return these family members to their own family.

We are gathering information and watching videos from surrounding businesses and the bank. Do the right thing.”

September 8: Malicia is on television. Her posts had been shared with television stations WUSA 9, Fox 5 and even Barry Lee of 92.5 WINC FM on Facebook. Fox interviewed Malicia via Skype for their evening broadcast and posted the video on their Facebook page. Thousands saw the broadcast, photos and read about the thefts.

3 more days go by. The police posts are making an impact. Lt. Hollins traces leads and the pressure is mounting. Over 54,000 views on the Middleburg Police Department’s Facebook page, and increasing every day.

September 12: Finally, the break in the case everyone had hoped for. Lost & Found Dogs – DC Metro Area Facebook Page posted:

“REUNITED!! Tuka, stolen from Middleburg, is back with her family! Thanks to Karen Dick Chism and The Humane Society of Fairfax County for reuniting this puppy with its owner! The Humane Society of Fairfax Co was honored to be the ones to get this little beautiful girl back to her Momma today. It’s what we do best. It’s all good. Real GOOD… I am the Manager of their 2nd Chance Thrift store in Fairfax City. I was actually handed the puppy out in our parking lot. I recognized the puppy right away. I was overjoyed to take her to safety.”

September 12, 1:13 pm: The Middleburg Police Department posted:

“We are excited to report that both dogs have been returned home safe and sound. The investigation continues but for now, the pups are back together again. Thank you for the support and assistance with keeping the pressure on the thief. Lt. Jay Hollins, for lack of a better way of saying it, really hound dogged this case. He was and remains on the trail. I am proud of the work that he and the rest of the MPD staff contributed to the safe return. We believe it was the collaboration of the community, social media, and a dedicated investigator that made the difference. We truly have a community that looks out for one another. Thank you again.

A few of the nearly 500 responses to this post:

“…Awesome news!!! This is a great example of when policing and community come together and work hard. Thanks to everyone who did not rest until this was solved. Thanks!!!” “…The Middleburg Police Force rocks! “ “…Thank you Middleburg Police, Lt. Jay Hollins!”

And from Malicia: “I am so grateful to the Middleburg Police Department and this amazing community. We all worked together to get her home. I couldn’t thank everyone enough.” It was a very tough lesson for Malicia to learn, but thanks to the skillful detective work and relentless use of social media, the outcome was a happy ending. Tuka was microchipped the following day. 

As of September 19, after this last post, the Middleburg Police Department’s page got 91,832 views.