When Nayo Mateo walked out of a store to find his minivan was stolen, his heart sank -- not for the car, but for his 10-year-old yellow Labrador, Maru, who was asleep in the back seat.
On Monday, two days after the van was stolen, police found the minivan abandoned in front of a golf and tennis club in Studio City. The thief had left Maru inside, with the windows rolled up, and the dog had died, possibly from the heat, police said.
Mateo confirmed his dog's death to NBC4 on Monday evening. He said his entire family was distraught that the dog he had raised from a puppy was dead.
Before the heartbreaking find, Mateo told NBC4 in a tearful interview: "I don't care about the car. I just want my dog back."
He said Maru wasn't just a pet to him -- she was like his child.
The family’s minivan was stolen from a parking lot at 12507 Ventura Boulevard, at Whitsett Avenue (map), in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Studio City. Mateo said he left the car running with the air conditioner on so Maru could stay cool while he went inside to get his wife and 2-year-old daughter, who were shopping at a children’s clothing store.
"We miss her so much; she's a part of our life," Mateo told NBC4 in an earlier interview. He often teared up and wept when speaking about the then-missing dog who he's had since she was a puppy.
The family posted fliers, called animal shelters and filed a police report.
"I felt sick to my stomach for this poor man who was trying to hold it together," said Sheilah Aragon, founder of Mutt Match L.A.
Mutt Match L.A. asked for the public’s help to raise reward money, and some $1,500 has been raised.
It was unclear what would be done with the raised funds.
NBC4's Kim Baldonado contributed to this report.
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