Meat thief runs, stops, eats

<p>This package, which held stew meat early Monday morning, was snatched into the jaws of a four-legged shopper.</p>

A brazen theft from Safeway’s meat counter early Monday morning ended with management chasing the culprit down across the street, but not before the thief had already gobbled more than half of the loot – a 1.78-pound package of stew beef chunks.

To recover what was left of the evidence, store manager Steve Hunter then reportedly shooed away the absconder – a dog, residence unknown and of undetermined breed, but probably at least part yellow Lab.

According to assistant manager Katie Wightman, the incident occurred sometime before 7 a.m. The store opens at 6 a.m., and Monday’s suspect had entered the store on previous occasions, as have other members of the canine species.

“Dogs figure out the electric doors off and on over the year,” Wightman said.

Employees spot nearly every instance of entry quickly enough to induce the animal’s exit while it’s still near the front of the store. Monday morning’s entry was different, though. The dog slipped in without anyone noticing and made its way to the meat counter at the back. The counter’s main shelf displays its fresh packaged goods a mere two feet or so above floor level, requiring little effort for the dog of similar height to go “shopping.”

Wightman said the animal’s presence wasn’t detected until bookkeeper Sherrol Swart, who works in the booth near the checkstands, spotted the dog returning toward the front exits carrying its prize. The dog left through the set of doors facing east and crossed Northwest Holmes Street, briefly retiring to a grassy patch between Wallowa Valley Eye Clinic and a residence to begin eating, consuming around a pound of meat before Hunter could interrupt the meal.

Later in the morning, the store reported the incident to the Enterprise Police Department.

Wightman, who describes the dog as “friendly,” says employees don’t know its gender. Swart said the animal came in several times during the winter, seemingly drawn to the store interior’s warmth on extra-cold mornings.

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