A guide dog that was stolen from a blind masseur in Beijing was returned with a note from the dognappers asking its owner to "please forgive us".
The 7-year-old black Labrador, named Qiaoqiao, was stolen by an organized gang of dog thieves on Monday, the Beijing Public Security Bureau said on Tuesday.
The dog's owner, Tian Fengbo, 47, from Shunyi district, said a worker at Tian's massage establishment was walking Qiaoqiao on the street on Monday morning when the gang approached and took the dog.
"We don't use a leash for walking her around in the mornings," Tian said. Qiaoqiao was grabbed by the occupants of a silver van that was passing by.
The distraught owner called the police, and the Beijing Public Security Bureau immediately released information about the incident on its micro blog, hoping for public assistance. Local police also investigated.
Tian said the thieves sent the dog home secretly on Tuesday evening. "I burst into tears when I heard Qiaoqiao's voice," he said.
The thieves were still at large.
"I hope they will stop stealing dogs, no matter whether they are guide dogs or any other dogs," Tian said. "A dog is just a dog to them. But to the owner, it is a friend, or even a family member."
Guide dogs, often Labradors or golden retrievers, are sent to foster families as puppies for nearly a year of socialization. Dogs that show promise receive another year of training.
Tian said that while Qiaoqiao was missing, he dared not go out alone.
Tian met Qiaoqiao for the first time in 2010 at the China Guide Dog Training Center, the country's first and only guide dog training center. It is based at Dalian Medical University in Northeast China's Liaoning province.
After spending 20 days at the center training with Qiaoqiao, Tian brought the dog home.
He said that every time they crossed the road, Qiaoqiao would stop and check whether it was safe before crossing with Tian. "I felt brave and confident to go outside alone with Qiaoqiao by my side. I felt I was the same as any other person."
Tian said Qiaoqiao seemed nervous the first evening after she returned home. "But she is much better now and can eat or go outside as usual," he said.