After His Shoes Were Stolen Off The Porch, One Man Made An Unsettling Discovery

Though 2020 has seen its share of unbelievable events, in late July, one city was captivated by a strange situation on a smaller scale. The Case of the Missing Shoes swept the local news and triggered a discovery of a network of rogue shoe thieves with covert rings operating around the world. But how — and why — did the shoes go missing? The people were determined to find out.

As coronavirus quarantine restrictions lifted, Christian Meyer bought himself a brand new, high-end pair of sneakers. As a psychologist and mental well-being coach, he understood the importance of exercise, and he was more than ready to get back out and hit the ground running.

Christian Meyer

The weather was nice in his quiet neighborhood of Zehlendorf, Berlin, and the streets were thick with trees. It almost didn’t feel like a city at all; rather, it felt like a small, rural community, a place where Christian felt safe leaving his belongings on the porch overnight.

Wikimedia Commons

For a short while, all was well. The sun was shining, his daily runs were invigorating, and life seemed to be going great. However, Christian’s joy would be short-lived: one morning, he went out onto his porch and got a bad surprise.

Filip Kwiatkowski for The New York Times

One of his very expensive new sneakers, which he’d left by the door, was missing. Confused, Christian looked around to see if it’d fallen off the porch, or if he’d kicked it into a bush by mistake. But the shoe was nowhere to be found.

BadGuyCraig/Reddit

Luckily, Christian was close with his neighbors, so he began asking around to find out if they’d seen anything. Perhaps a young prankster had come up and collected his single shoe. But nobody had witnessed the crime.

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

They did have similar stories to share, though. Some neighbors also complained that they’d discovered missing shoes recently, but until Christian called attention to it, they chalked it up to their own absentmindedness. Now, a mystery was beginning to form.

Heather Duckworth

With multiple reports of missing shoes, Christian couldn’t help but to investigate further. A few days went by, and he waited to see if more shoes disappeared, but none did — at least not yet.

City of Fairfax Police Department

Then, one evening, he heard a rustling outdoors. He looked out — and caught a glimpse of a young fox, trotting by the house with two blue flip flops in its mouth! Though the creature soon vanished, Christian quickly formed a plan.

Christian Meyer

The next time he saw the fox, he’d follow it and hopefully find his lost shoe. This was a commitment that was easy to make in his head, but following through would prove difficult.

Anna Keiller

A few days later, the golden opportunity arrived. There was the fox, cheekily trotting through the yard like he’d done nothing wrong. Christian slipped on a pair of non-fancy shoes and hurried out the door, being careful not to startle the fox.

It darted into a nearby thicket, and Christian pursued. The woodsy environment he’d come to love about Zehlendorf now proved to be the bane of his pursuit. Sticks and brambles caught his clothes, and leaves got into his hair.

BBC America

He had followed the fox through the dense underbrush for nearly an hour, and was almost ready to give up, when the animal slowed down near a divot in the ground. As Christian drew closer, he realized what it was: the fox’s den!

WildlifeKate

While the fox hid, he crept up and took a peek — and couldn’t believe his eyes. The den was full of shoes, almost a hundred of them, and hardly any two were a match. Strangely enough, the fox seemed to prefer Crocs, as nearly every color of Croc was represented.

Christian Meyer

Christian retrieved the shoes in bundles and brought them into a clearing. After he laid them all out, he contacted the neighbors who’d told him of their similar problem, and they were able to come identify and retrieve their lost soles.

kate9871/Reddit

Sadly, Christian’s missing fancy sneaker was not among those found. But there could be other fox thieves nearby. The town of Foehren, in western Germany, had a similar problem, in which a mother fox stole 120 shoes in a single night for her cubs to play with.

Fantastic Gardeners

A writer in London, who was particularly frustrated with foxes in his garden, woke up one morning to find seven mismatched shoes placed neatly in the middle of his lawn. Similarly, a woman in Melbourne caught video footage of a fox stealing three boots off her porch.

Stephanie Langham/YouTube

In an even cleverer heist, a Japanese pair of foxes with a taste for sandals was discovered working as a team to steal over forty pairs. It took five Kyoto police officers to surround the duo and rein them in before the spoils could be returned to their rightful owners.

Julian Sims/YouTube

Why have the sly creatures done this? It seems that, like dogs, they like to chew on the shoes, as most of the footwear Christian found had been mildly gnawed. Crocs seem like they’d have a good, springy texture for chewing.

Anna Keiller

Fox cubs go through teething phases, and it’s likely that the shoes help alleviate discomfort as the young animals’ sharp incisors are growing. Regardless of the reason, you can avoid a similar fate for your shoes by just storing them indoors.

Paul Cecil

We’re not sure how foxes discovered that shoes were nice to chew on, but they’ve been known to play with dogs, who might be the worst shoe-chewers of all. Don’t get mad at these furry red goofballs, though — they’re just chewing away some stress from a major threat to their existence.

Jessika Coker

Nearby, in Poland, the landscape is packed with wildlife. Foxes, wolves, bison, and moose are only a few of the animals that roam the country’s dense forests, but there are people who make it their mission to snuff out these brave creatures.

Wild Poland

These people are fur farmers, and their main goal is to be expected: Money. Though the fur industry has suffered in recent years, money is still the end that seemingly justifies the means… and it’s the “means” that keep animal activists up at night.

Humane Society International/U.K./Oikeutta Eläimille

On a fur farm, animals like minks and foxes are bred solely for their fur. Some are forbidden from roaming the farm, interacting with fellow members of its species, or seeing beyond its cage. Others are crammed so tightly into pens that they can barely move.

On a fur farm, animals like minks and foxes are bred solely for their fur. Some are forbidden from roaming the farm, interacting with fellow members of its species, or seeing beyond its cage. Others are crammed so tightly into pens they can barely move.

Open Cages

When the investigators at Open Cages visited a particular fur farm in Poland, they did so with these Five Freedoms in mind. The fur trapping laws in Poland are practically non-existent, so they had no idea how bad the conditions would be.

They knew the basics: Fur farming over generations results in animal morbidity, stunted growth, even self-inflicted injuries and altered mental status. Still, nothing could prepare them for what they saw on that Polish fur farm.   

Hundreds of cages, each containing a small animal. They didn’t need a veterinarian to tell them that the animals were cold, hungry, and in pain. All they needed to do was peer inside the rusty cages…and one cage in particular caught their eye.

They found a skinny, snowy-white fox curled up in the corner of his dark cage. What immediately struck them wasn’t the smell of excrement or rotting flesh that wafted through the farm, but the fox’s eyes.

He looked up at them with curious, doleful eyes. The Open Cages investigators had done many welfare checks before, but never had they been so moved by an animal’s gaze. But when they approached the fox, it was like the spell had broken.

He backed away, clearly terrified. The baby fox had never seen anything beyond his cage, so being around so many people must have been overwhelming for the little guy. And when he moved, the investigators noticed something horrible.

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

His paws were sore and bloodied, and he had a sizable wound on his leg. The fox was meant to walk on a blanket of snow, not on the sharp, twisted metal of the cold cage. When he looked up at the investigators again, they knew what they had to do.

They scooped him up and brought him to a treatment center. For the first time, he wasn’t poked, prodded, or measured for his monetary value. The veterinarians gently cleaned him up and dressed his wounds…but not before giving him the most precious gift of all.

Open Cages/Stien van der Ploeg/Vėjūnė Rimašiūtė

After living a life of obscurity on the fur farm, the fox was finally given a name! The people of Open Cages named him Maciek, a nod to his strong Polish heritage. Maciek was given a wide, open space to recover, and he’s now unrecognizable. 

Open Cages/Stien van der Ploeg/Vėjūnė Rimašiūtė

His distinct white fur, speckled nose, and sweet eyes have made him an adored member of the Open Cages family. One rescuer even decided to make Marciek a permanent member of the family! 

Open Cages/Stien van der Ploeg/Vėjūnė Rimašiūtė

Now Maciek is in the midst of recovery, and he’s getting stronger, happier, and fluffier with every passing day. His rescuers made sure he always had a toy to play with, and the more comfortable he got, the more his unique personality shone through… 

Open Cages/Stien van der Ploeg/Vėjūnė Rimašiūtė

Maciek has transformed into an energetic, playful young fox, and has a near-constant hankering for pumpkin slices. Of course, Maciek can’t only hang out with humans, and luckily for him, his rescuers had just the furry friend in mind.

Open Cages/Stien van der Ploeg/Vėjūnė Rimašiūtė

As soon as Maciek met the other four-legged animal in the neighborhood, the two were inseparable! They rolled and played around together, a far cry from the lonely life Maciek once lived on the farm, especially once December rolled around.

Open Cages/Stien van der Ploeg/Vėjūnė Rimašiūtė

The season of giving was a milestone for Maciek, as it marked his first Christmas of freedom. He celebrated with his rescuers, his favorite toys, and of course with his best friend! Still, the people of Open Cages know that Maciek is an outlier. 

Open Cages/Stien van der Ploeg/Vėjūnė Rimašiūtė

He was just one of dozens of foxes in that particular fur farm, bred for the sole purpose of being slaughtered once their furs had fully grown in. The investigators couldn’t save everyone, and there’s no telling when the laws regarding fur farms will change. 

Open Cages/Stien van der Ploeg/Vėjūnė Rimašiūtė

That said, the progress made by animal rights activists and investigators like Open Cages is hope for a future filled with healthy, happy, and free wildlife all over the world. In the U.S., animals are being rescued from terrible situations every day…

Open Cages/Stien van der Ploeg/Vėjūnė Rimašiūtė

When Ellie Mae was discovered, no one could tell she was alive. All her rescuers saw was a giant clump of tangled fur on the floor. It looked like something you’d see in Jim Henson’s abandoned creature shop…

But then, it moved — though only slightly. No one knows how long Ellie Mae had been on the floor, weighed down by a mess of matted, dirty fur. After all, her rescuers hadn’t even expected to find her where they did…

The old woman who had lived in the house had died, and they were supposed to clean and empty the home. They expected to see dust bunnies, sure, but never the matted, breathing creature they couldn’t make heads or tails of.

Still, they knew what they had to do, even if the sight and smell of the creature made them gag. They tried to coax it into a standing position, but all the creature could do was lie there and breathe.

They had no choice. Ellie Mae’s rescuers lifted her body off the ground and placed her into a storage tote before bringing her to the Nebraska Humane Society. The specialists at the shelter had seen some grisly cases before — but never like this. 

Even the veterinarians had no idea what kind of creature it was…that is, until they made a crack in the matted shell. Looking up at them were the terrified eyes of a dog, trapped within its own prison of fur.

The vets sprung into action. First, they had to shave her — but not with a buzzer. The severity of the case required surgical blades, which they held as close to the skin as possible. She was covered in sores, which necessitated anesthesia. 

But there was no way for them to know her exact weight, and they ran the risk of accidentally overdosing her. As minutes passed and Ellie Mae whimpered with pain, they had no choice but to estimate the correct dosage.

“We carefully cut through the grimy hair with no idea what we would find underneath,” the N.H.S. explained on Twitter. There was a sense of trepidation. They’d seen similar, though not as severe, cases in the past…and it never ended well.

“A past dog had matted hair so bad it had cut off the blood flow of [the] dog’s legs,” the N.H.S. said. The only solution had been amputation. Other past cases had been even worse…

There were other instances where a dog’s limbs were strangled and naturally amputated by its own fur. Since this results in necrosis and sepsis, or diseased limbs and blood that ultimately kills the animal, Ellie Mae’s vets prepared themselves for the worst.

But when they removed enough layers of fur, they saw an extremely welcome sight: Ellie Mae’s legs, pink with blood flow. As they continued shaving, however, the vets realized that the matted fur wasn’t the only thing preventing Ellie Mae from walking.

Her toenails were seven inches long, and as the NHS described, they were “cocooned in hair, feces, and years of grit.” The more they shaved, the worse Ellie Mae looked. She wouldn’t lose a limb, but she was still in serious danger.

After an hour of shaving, Ellie Mae was finally freed. The matted fur weighed nine pounds —astounding, considering how Ellie Mae herself is just eleven pounds. Still, she was covered in painful sores, and she wasn’t much better internally, either. 

One of her feet was infected, she had a painful hernia, rotting teeth, muscle wasting, and arthritis in her back end after years of being sedentary. Despite all these serious health problems, the shelter staff considered Ellie Mae lucky. 

“The hard shell of hair apparently protected her skin from infections and parasites,” Pam Wiese, a representative from N.H.S., explained. The hair that had pulled on Ellie Mae’s skin and held her captive had actually saved her life…

Five hours after she was shaved, Ellie Mae was on the road to recovery. “She stumbled a bit as she hadn’t walked in some time,” the N.H.S. said. Only time would tell if Ellie Mae would survive in the hours after her treatment.

After two weeks, Ellie Mae had a new lease on life. “She’s stronger, loves to explore and greets everyone with a sweet face,” wrote the N.H.S. Twitter page. As the vets describe, Ellie Mae is a miracle in more ways than one.

Despite years of neglect, Ellie Mae has nothing but a goofy grin for everyone she meets. “She doesn’t have any issues with people,” they described. “She’s extraordinarily resilient!” When they shared the story online, people definitely had their own opinions.

“[This] really proves the importance of those ‘dog owners’ emergency window stickers,” one user wrote, while others praised the N.H.S. and sent their love to the new and improved Ellie Mae. The N.H.S. had just one response to all the praise.

“That’s why we do what we do!” Pam Wiese exclaimed. Thanks to the quick-thinking at the N.H.S., Ellie Mae will live to walk, run, and jump another day — and, hopefully, all in the comfort of her very own forever home.

Luckily, that day may not be so far away. Lazarus the sweet Pyrenean mountain dog lived a life of neglect and discomfort throughout his first seven years, just like Ellie Mae. Fear plagued the poor pup, who sported a pretty gnarly hairdo.

Life With Dogs

The Tennessee pooch spent those years cooped up in the smelly, filth-coated barn, having no room to run and no sky to see. He was left alone to fend for himself, unintentionally fencing himself in with his own waste.

He must’ve been particularly uncomfortable: Pyrenean Mountain Dogs have double coats of fur, with a dense, fine undercoat. Without proper grooming, matting can lead to skin issues, and unfortunately, Lazarus endured extreme matting.

YouTube

The matting was a surprisingly weighty mess. Lazarus’ fur overgrew to an incredible mass, weighing an astonishing 35 pounds. His life was at stake, and help needed to come sooner rather than later.

Rover

Grievously, the dog’s owner reportedly suffered from a mental illness, having called a relative for immediate assistance, so the owner was no help to Laz. Little did the helpless pooch know, he was about to encounter the best day of his heretofore sad life.

Soon enough, after the owner’s relative made an urgent phone call, a diligent rescue team of volunteers from the Big Fluffy Dog Rescue, which included two groomers (who must’ve anticipated the challenge of their career), came to liberate Lazarus.

Giphy

To the horror of the rescue team, there was a tremendous amount of dirt and feces blocking the door to Lazarus’ barn stall; so much so that the team had to shovel a path to save the poor furry angel. Lazarus was so close to freedom.

Rural Revolution

When they could finally tend to the struggling pooch, the team immediately became aware of some health problems Lazarus had been facing, which hindered his ability to get around with ease.

Giphy

The matted fur, like a swarming, restricting ivy plant covering the building, tragically made it impossible for him to walk. The mutt must’ve dreamed of running free in a sunny field, chasing cats and butterflies; but would he ever be able to?

EyeEm

Jean Harrison, the owner of the Big Fluffy Dog Rescue, said: “He had no muscle mass and was unable to move around, let alone walk.” Although the news was alarming, the team just had to start buzzing off some of that nasty, dead fur without hesitation.

Angus Post

It took hours to groom Lazarus, who initially cowered from the rescue team’s touch out of pure fear. Once his neck was free from the fur prison, however, he warmed up, realizing that the group of strange humans had good intentions.

PPcorn

“He calmed down and seemed to realize it [the grooming] was making him feel better,” Jessica Kincheloe, one of the dog groomers, said on behalf of Lazarus.

PawBuzz

Rest assured, after cutting off all of Lazarus’ impeding fur, he was a new man, or rather, a new good boy. We think he looks rather dapper in his new ‘do.

Angus Post

Jean Harrison mentioned that he, unfortunately, didn’t have typical dog mannerisms down pat. “Lazarus doesn’t know how to be a dog,” she said. “He doesn’t exactly know how to behave like a dog.” He’d soon learn though.

Jean voiced that the still-shy Lazarus “approached a freshly grilled steak cautiously, which made us sad.” Dogs shouldn’t have to be grateful for food, she said, nor should the innocent creatures ever have to suffer. But Lazarus’ suffering was now over.

ilovemydogsomuch

From there, Lazarus was taken into a foster home in Virginia, where he would embark on his arduous recovery journey, as well as receive heaps of “good boy” pets and kisses. He had a lot of pain to overcome, but more importantly, he had a lot of happiness to look forward to.

It would take weeks or even months for the pup to regain strength, muscle mass, and a little self-esteem prior to getting adopted by his forever family. But until then, Lazarus still had sights to see and steaks to devour…

The Dodo

As expected, Lazarus was adopted in no time. His family clearly takes proper care of his precious (high maintenance) coat and gives him tons of TLC. We think he deserves all of the love and steaks the world has to offer.

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