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Published: Saturday, 7/20/2013 - Updated: 2 years ago

Man on TARTA attempts to steal an assistance dog

Aricca Okenka with her service dog Ingrid at her home in Toledo, Ohio. Someone tried to steal her dog on a Tarta Bus. Aricca Okenka with her service dog Ingrid at her home in Toledo, Ohio. Someone tried to steal her dog on a Tarta Bus.

Arrica Okenka had fallen out of the habit of always holding her assistance dog's leash when they traveled together, but she was glad to have been holding on tightly when they rode the bus last week and another passenger tried to steal Ingrid.

Toledo police still hope to arrest the man who grabbed the 5-year-old golden retriever's leash aboard the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority bus Monday afternoon at Upton Avenue and Bancroft Street, then let go and fled when Ms. Okenka kept her grip.

"A lot of times, I don't have a hold of her leash, because she's so trained, I just let her lay down," Ms. Okenka said Saturday. "That day, I'm glad I had a hold of the leash. But once I realized what he was doing, I really wasn't letting go."

Ms. Okenka, 30, has cerebral palsy, and has had Ingrid since 2009. The dog helps her with many routine tasks, including dressing and undressing, handling doors, and picking up dropped objects.

Surveillance video of the incident from an on-board camera has been posted to YouTube and has gone viral, with more than 11,400 viewings as of Saturday morning.

"I still can't wrap my head around it," she said. "Maybe he did think he could get money for having her, because of all the things she's trained to do, but she's trained to do them for me. You can drop things all day long and she's just going to look at you."

The would-be dognaper's yank cut the middle finger on Ms. Okenka's left hand, but she said that was healing.

Before attempting to snatch the dog, the man struck up a conversation with her about Ingrid, but that was nothing unusual, she said -- people often chat with her. But he also behaved oddly, stating that he, like Ms. Okenka, was headed to Westfield Franklin Park but then ringing the stop-request bell twice before the bus got close to the mall.

The first time, he grabbed a bus schedule and sat back down. The second time was when he reached for the leash after he stepped over Ingrid, who was relaxing on the bus floor.

"I wasn't letting go. And I think he realized, 'Oh, she's not letting go,' " she said. "I'll never do it [lay her down without holding her leash] again.

"She's just been following me for four years," Ms. Okenka explained. "She's so smart, I almost don't have to put her on a leash. I do that because you're supposed to do it -- you're supposed to leash your dog. And now I'll definitely keep her on that leash forever."

Ms. Okenka has been a contract mediator since 2007 in Lucas County juvenile court, where Ingrid has become so well-known that more people recognize the dog better than recognize her.

"They call her [Ingrid] the court mascot. Everybody loves Ingrid," she said. "Everyone at the court is upset. Somebody tried to take our dog. She's my dog, but they call it our dog because they love her to pieces, but she's definitely mine."

Toledo police ask anyone who recognizes the suspect to call Crime Stoppers at 419-255-1111.

Contact Tanya Irwin at tirwin@theblade.com, 419-724-6066 or on Twitter @TanyaIrwin.

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