The story of Delaware County's stolen Chihuahua got a little weirder yesterday when Springfield police announced that the $1,400 pooch had mysteriously returned to the scene of the crime.

A sales clerk at We Love Pets - which has reported three high-priced dog thefts this year - received a phone call Saturday night from an unidentified woman who said that the pup was behind the store, according to police.

"They got a call almost at closing time that the puppy was outside the back door in a Black and Decker toolbox," said Springfield Police Lt. William Clark.

The light-gray Chihuahua was stolen from the store Dec. 19 by a man in his 20s who hopped in his getaway driver's Ford pickup truck. It was the latest dognapping in what appears to be a national trend.

Police don't know how or why the dog was returned to the pet shop in the Stoney Creek Shopping Center, on Baltimore Pike.

So, go ahead, pick a theory.

Did the dog-snatchers have a change of heart? A guilt-ridden girlfriend returning her Christmas present? Maybe someone bought a suspiciously cheap puppy and had an epiphany when they picked up the newspaper?

Clark said that the dog didn't appear to have been harmed or malnourished.

"It looked like it was well kept and taken care of," he said.

In January, We Love Pets reported that two men stole a black pug and a maltipom - each valued at about $1,000 - then sped off in a Cadillac Escalade that was waiting behind the store.

"They were never recovered, no arrests," Clark said.

The owner of We Love Pets has declined to comment on the thefts.

Lisa Peterson, spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club, said that she is tracking about 135 dognappings nationwide this year, nearly twice as many as last year.

Some of the dogs, particularly small and expensive breeds, are stolen to sell on the black market, or held for ransom, she said.

"As much as we love our dogs and are horrified when this happens, the dogs also become victims, and they are put into a situation that is very stressful for them as well," Peterson said.

Publicity seems to be among the factors that can lead to a dog's safe recovery.

"Widespread media coverage has played a part in getting dogs returned," Peterson said.

Police haven't made any arrests in the most recent theft. But the case isn't closed just because the dog has been returned.

"It's an open investigation," Clark said. "We're still trying to get the guy identified."