Was Can Opener Next On Umbrella's Shoplifting List?

Sydney Morning Herald

Sunday May 7, 1989

By SANDRA HARVEY

No-one suspected that three-year-old Umbrella, one of the most popular dogs in the Balmain canine community, was aspiring to a life of crime.

The friendly brown-and-white cattle dog had everyone fooled. Even his owner, Mr Kerry Butler, had no idea what his perfidious pooch was planning during their daily strolls past the local shop in Mullens Street.

For Umbrella, the cans of dog food stacked on the floor near the entrance were too much of a temptation.

He began to linger a little, hanging around the shop door, waiting until the shopkeepers were busy. Then, when the time was right, he would dart inside, poke his snout around the corner, grab a can of dog food and take off

In less than 30 seconds he would be around the corner and safely home in Roseberry Street.

But a careless mistake on Sunday of last week was Umbrella's undoing.

An eagle-eyed customer spotted him trying to steal a packet of Meaty Bites. Umbrella panicked and picked up a can of cat food instead.

The shopkeeper, Mr Jo Marafioti, managed to stop Umbrella at the door, catching him red-footed with the can of Dine Beef Heart and Kidney cat food. But instead of collaring him, Mr Marafioti followed Umbrella to see where he lived. The jig was up. Mrs Anne Marafioti called Balmain police.

Constable First Class Russell Wallace naturally thought it was a crank call.

"We all thought it was a joke. No-one else believed me - it broke us all up," Constable Wallace said.

"I've been in the police force for seven years and have never come across anything like this. It made us all laugh."

Copies of the occurrence sheet report of the incident were circulated around the police station and lightened a sad week for police following the death of an officer stationed at Balmain.

Constable John Burgess, 29, died on May 1 from injuries sustained when the police paddy wagon he was driving collided with a truck en route to a gaming raid on April 27.

Shortly before noon, Umbrella was sitting outside his gate when the patrol car arrived.

"He knew he had done something wrong," Mr Butler said.

"After the shopkeeper had followed us home and when some men in uniforms arrived, Umbrella knew something was up.

"The police threatened to put the dog cuffs on him, so Umbrella just lay down on his back with his legs in the air so the officers could scratch his stomach."

Mr Butler said Umbrella had probably done this type of thing before.

He often walked to the shop with his master and if he bought dog food, Mr Butler would put it in Umbrella's mouth because he liked to carry it home.

"I'd say he took the cat food on his own initiative. He's very used to going to buy food, he knows what a food shop is and where the dog food's kept," he said.

"He might get a bit confused between cat and dog food, but he knows what he's after - he's never taken a can of baked beans."

Mrs Marafioti said she had noticed a reduction in the number of pet food cans in the shop, but thought they were just selling well - until she saw Umbrella in action.

"He's a lovely dog, a very pretty animal and he's very quick - just two or three seconds and he grabs a can and is gone," she said.

And what does Umbrella do with his stolen cache?

According to his owner, Umbrella likes to bury new and used dog food cans and dig them up at a later date.

However, police failed to find a can opener or other breaking implements in his possession.

Consequently, Balmain's cheeky pet food rustler got off with a caution.

© 1989 Sydney Morning Herald

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