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December 5, 2023

Dog, owners reunited after theft

French bulldog stolen while car was parked at Casa De Fruta

Kate and Paolo D’Alessio thought their 15-month-old French bulldog, Sprinkles, was gone forever after a thief smashed the window of their vehicle and stole the pet outside a busy rest stop and gas station in east Santa Clara County.

Thus, the couple was “overjoyed” when they received a phone call from the sheriff’s office on March 26, notifying them that Sprinkles had been found, Kate D’Alessio said.

“French bulldogs are stolen to be bred, so we were thrilled” to get Sprinkles back, D’Alessio said.

The couple also learned that Sprinkles was recovered through the investigation of an unrelated crime: the suspect who allegedly stole the dog was arrested the next day on suspicion of murder in relation to a homicide in Sacramento.

The auto burglary and dognapping occurred on March 25, when the D’Alessios were driving through Santa Clara County on their way home to Palm Springs. The couple made a quick stop at Casa De Fruta, on Highway 152 in unincorporated east Gilroy, and ran into the store “for a couple minutes,” reads a statement from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. Because it was raining, the couple left Sprinkles in the car while they went inside to buy oranges. 

When they returned to their car, the rear passenger window was shattered and Sprinkles was gone, Kate D’Alessio described in a social media post. A black Volkswagen sedan—which the couple had noticed at a previous stop at a fruit stand minutes earlier—was observed leaving the scene. 

The couple called police to file a report, providing a description of the suspicious vehicle and its driver, as well as other information offered by witnesses to the auto burglary, D’Alessio wrote. Kate began circulating a “lost dog” flyer online.

The flyer “went viral overnight,” Kate wrote on social media. “I was receiving hundreds of messages and phone calls all day long… from anyone and everyone such as locals, a private investigator willing to help, concerned dog moms, and even some people with info that wished to remain anonymous.”

Some of these communications led the D’Alessios to suspect Alexander Tijerina, D’Alessio posted. A search online found Tijerina’s booking photo from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office.

According to that office, Tijerina, 20, was arrested March 26 on suspicion of shooting a 32-year-old Rancho Cordova man to death the previous day. The homicide occurred several hours after Tijerina allegedly stole Sprinkles.

As soon as the D’Alessios saw Tijerina’s mugshot, recognizing him as the driver of the suspicious vehicle at Casa De Fruta, they called authorities in Sacramento, who were not aware of the theft of Sprinkles. Deputies worked with investigators in Santa Clara County to try to reunite animal and owner.

“From some more research into the tips we received, the police were able to…locate Sprinkles in the nick of time. Apparently, Tijerina’s relative was on their way to trade my Sprinkles for another dog; 20 minutes longer and it would have been too late,” D’Alessio posted.

After receiving a call that Sprinkles was safely in police custody, the couple drove to Sacramento to retrieve her immediately. The Sacramento sheriff’s office posted an emotional, heartwarming video and photos of the reunion to social media.

D’Alessio works as a nurse at Stanford, and her husband is a therapist. The two are in the process of training Sprinkles to be a therapy animal for children. The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office noted that Kate D’Alessio “had spent the week taking care of COVID-19 patients” in the ICU. 

“In the end, Sprinkles was safely reunited with her family, who stopped by South County with pizza to show their appreciation to our deputies,” reads the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s statement.

Authorities did not respond to an email asking if Tijerina would be charged with the March 25 auto burglary and theft of Sprinkles.

Michael Moore
Michael Moore
Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.

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