STOCKTON, Calif. (KTVU) - The mother of a 12-year-old autistic boy is making a desperate plea for the return of her son's support dog, after the animal was stolen in Stockton over the weekend.
Cynthia Niswonger of San Diego was with her son, Neeko, and a friend, returning home from a road trip to Oregon on Sunday, when they all stopped at a McDonald's on Charter Way near Interstate 5.
Niswonger said she left the dog, Sloan, inside her locked car with the air conditioning running, as the three of them went inside the restaurant to use the bathroom. The mother said she kept her eyes on the car through the restaurant's windows as she waited to use the bathroom.
She and her son rushed back outside and watched as her car was being driven away. A man had broken into the car and took it with the dog inside, along with their belongings.
"I ran and screamed leave my dog. But Neeko was with me," Niswonger said on a Facebook post on Sunday, seeking help to find her dog. "He got away with my car. Neeko's iPad. All my luggage and worst of all our dog Sloan," she wrote.
Niswonger spent the rest of the day searching for Sloan. She posted information about the dog online and contacted police. She hired an Uber to take her and her son around town to look for the dog, canvassing the streets into the late evening hours.
"I spoke to homeless and disenfranchised putting the word out I just want the dog," she said.
The following day they reached out to shelters and animal hospitals.
On Monday, they received a lead. Police located Niswonger's stolen Ford Focus, but the dog and their belongings were gone. Investigators dusted the car for fingerprints and Niswonger said police planned to look at footage from surveillance cameras at the McDonald's where the car was stolen, as well as a nearby home.
Later that day, Niswonger said with a heavy heart, it was time they returned home without their trusted dog, noting, "There's nothing more we can do."
She said they were leaving after contacting veterinary clinics in the area, reaching out to shelters and posting numerous flyers.
Niswonger also thanked the complete strangers who joined in the efforts to locate their dog.
"Stockton animal lovers have been crazy kind," she said.
The outpouring of support has been growing since word got out about the theft. Niswonger said the story has been covered in places as far as New York City and the United Kingdom.
A friend established a GoFundMe campaign that's so far raised more than $1,400 in reward money to help bring Sloan home.
"I'd like to spread the word as incentive for helping us to be reunited," Niswonger told KTVU, adding, "Every dime will go to whoever can bring her back to us, with no questions asked."
Niswonger said they just want their dog back.
"I'm still praying for Sloan to be found," Niswonger said. "She's a very special dog."