Police say Minneapolis 'rescuer' kidnapped dog, fed it cheeseburgers

A Minneapolis woman accused of stealing a dog from its home in Wisconsin claims she was just trying to save it from starvation and neglect.

On June 21, the Pierce County Sheriff's Office got a call from 62-year-old John Nestler of Ellsworth, a small Wisconsin town across the border from Hastings. Nestler, an insurance salesman, said his 2-year-old black lab, Buddy, went missing after he'd gone to meet an unidentified woman who wanted to buy life insurance.

Nestler said he felt strange about that appointment because the woman called him up asking for a quote, which people don't usually do. She also claimed to be 21 years old, though she sounded older.

The woman was a no-show at their meeting, and Nestler suspected her of the dognapping. He even had an idea of her real identity: 58-year-old Holly Neff of south Minneapolis.

Nestler called Minneapolis Police, who posted a seizure notice for the dog on Neff's door about a week later.

According to the criminal complaint against Neff, she then contacted the Pierce County Sheriff's Office to tell her side of the story. She wanted to set the record straight: She claimed she didn't steal Buddy; she rescued him after going to Nestler's property to "check things out," according to the complaint. She told police she once worked for Nestler, taking care of his father.

Neff said she discovered two deeply malnourished horses on Nestler's property with their ribs sticking out, and that one may have been blind from an eye infection. She said she also stumbled upon a kennel filled with mud, with no food or water for the dog inside. So she went to a McDonald's, bought a couple cheeseburgers, and fed them to the dog, according to the complaint.

Neff said she "did what she could," and left the property.

But soon, she returned to "rescue" the dog and take it back home with her to Minneapolis, Neff told police. According to the complaint, she said she tried and failed to find a Humane Society to report the conditions of Nestler's property, though she still worried about the two horses left in his care.

The deputy followed up on Neff's animal abuse complaint, inspecting Nestler's horses as they grazed in a grassy pasture, surrounded by hay bales. They seemed to be a healthy weight with clean and even coats, and showed no signs of neglect, the deputy reported. He also found a dog kennel with a water dish inside.

Minneapolis Police eventually picked Buddy up from Neff's backyard, and Neff was charged with one count of dognapping, a Class A misdemeanor that carries a maximum of nine months in jail or a $10,000 fine. She appeared in Pierce County court last week and pleaded not guilty.