A man spent 10 minutes asking about buying axolotls in a Thames' vet clinic before scooping up a rare Chion puppy and making a run for it in a Daihatsu Mira.
The drama unfolded this morning at the Hauraki Veterinary Services.
Manager Teresa Nairn says the man walked into the clinic about 1pm and was asking staff about buying axolotls - or salamanders - and other animals.
When staff diverted their attention from him for a few seconds the dognapper swooped on the Chion, a cross between a Chihuahua and a Papillo.
''The puppy and his brother were in a little play pen in the window of the shop where they run around and play with toys.
''The man scooped one of the dogs up and tucked it under his arm before jumping in a car and taking off.''
Police quickly swung into action and armed with a description of the man and his car posted a message on the Thames Police Facebook page asking for the public to keep an eye out for the pair.
About 20 minutes later the man was stopped by police in Paeroa and the puppy found safe and well.
At 2.30pm three police officers returned the little pup to his anxious carers.
''We were so worried and his little brother was fretting for him so much,'' she said.
''We are very glad he is coming back to us.''
There was no way of knowing what prompted the man, described as young, to take the dog, she said.
''But small dogs are used for bait in dog fights, it doesn't bear thinking about,'' she said.
'''We can't thank the police enough for finding him so quickly.''
The puppies are for sale for $650 each and come desexed, microchipped and fully vaccinated.