Year after dog's taken, owner won't give up faith

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers and Third Squad detectives Suffolk County Crime Stoppers and Third Squad detectives are seeking the public's help to identify and locate the individual who burglarized a West Islip home and stole cash and a family pet. (Dec. 19, 2012) Photo Credit: Handout

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There is nothing that Donna Labriola wants more than getting JoJo back to where he once belonged.

To increase the chances, she's upped the reward to $10,000 for the return -- no questions asked -- of the now 4-year-old Maltese/dachshund mix who was taken a year ago during the burglary of her West Islip home.

"My kids help me to keep hope alive," said Labriola, a single mom, with daughters ages 11, 13 and 21, as well as a pit bull and Australian shepherd. "I have faith, and I believe when you remain positive good things happen."

JoJo, also known as Joey, was taken Oct. 23, 2012, Suffolk County police said, during a burglary that occurred sometime between 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. The burglar -- or burglars -- took cash and the 13-pound dog after entering the home through a basement door, police said.

The investigation is ongoing, police said, and the public can call Suffolk County Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-220-TIPS to share possible leads.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers and Third Squad detectives are seeking the public's help to identify and locate the individual who burglarized a West Islip home and stole cash and a family pet. (Dec. 19, 2012) Photo Credit: Handout

"Joey is out there and I'm going to find him HELL OR HIGH WATER," Labriola wrote on a Facebook page that she's updated throughout the year.

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On April 11 she posted: "Today is JoJos 4th Birthday! Happy Birthday Our little JoJo!!! . I hope whoever has you is spoiling you and treating you good. If the person who has JoJo is reading this, PLEASE give him a BIG HUG & KISS from us!! Please find it in your heart to give him back, my family is crushed without him."

On a daughter's birthday, March 15, she posted a video of the family releasing three balloons with Joey flyers on them. She's marked some monthly anniversaries of his disappearance, promoted a car wash fundraiser for reward money -- which she said brought in around $300 -- and shared tributes her daughters created.

Regarding those people who tell her to give up the cause and move on? "I think by now everyone knows not to say that to me," said Labriola, 49, a personal trainer.

As for a missing dog resurfacing after such a long time, it absolutely does happen, though the "back story" may never be known, said Robert Misseri, president of Guardians of Rescue, a Smithtown-based non-profit, which put up $3,000 of JoJo's reward money.

Labriola's tenacity is not surprising, as companion animals in the United States are increasingly seen as members of the family, said Emily Weiss, animal behaviorist and ASPCA vice president of shelter research and development.

While dog theft is rare and there's no hard data on the chances of return, there's happier news for lost dogs, said Weiss, who grew up in Great Neck.

A majority of lost dogs -- 93 percent -- were found, half by a neighborhood search and 15 percent thanks to an ID tag or micro-chip, according to a 2012 nationwide ASPCA study in which 14 percent of just over 1,000 respondents reported having had a lost canine.

Labriola said she's gotten hundreds of leads over the year, via craigslist, social media and through the many flyers she and others have distributed.

In one close call, she said, she adopted a Joey look-alike from a Manhattan shelter -- "I couldn't leave him there" -- and placed him in a new home with the help of a neighbor.

As for the $7,000 she may be called on to shell out if Joey is returned, "If that's what it takes, that's what it takes," Labriola said. "The smile on my kids' faces" would be worth it.

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