La Habra Police dispatcher adopts puppy found in a car fire with a twist

By Elysse James

It was a phone call that would change her life, and for the better.

The call came into La Habra Police Department Dispatch like any other — a car was on fire in the city.

Communications Dispatcher Christina Argott took the call and dispatched fire and police units to the scene. First responders arrived quickly and put the fire out.

A photo of 6-week-old Ernie on the day he was rescued is kept on Christina Argott’s smartphone.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Little did they know there was a two-month-old puppy in the car.

After the fire was extinguished, Officer Phil Principe looked into the car and discovered a Yorkie mix trembling on the passenger-side floor of a car that, minutes before, had been engulfed in flames.

La Habra’s animal control was called and they took custody of the abandoned and terrified puppy. Before heading off to the pound with the young puppy, they brought him into the police station. He was still wet from the water used to put out the fire, and he smelled of smoke. When Argott saw him, she knew immediately that she wanted to adopt him.

“As soon as I saw him I gave him a kiss and I said, ‘Hi Ernie,'” Argott said. “He licked me and I said, ‘Okay, that’s it. He’s mine.'”

Ernie, a Yorkshire Terrier adopted by La Habra Police Department’s Christina Argott after being rescued from a car fire.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Attempts were made to locate the owners of the car and return the puppy; however, no one came forward to claim him. After waiting 10 days, Argott officially adopted him.

But the process of making Ernie a permanent and official member of her family had a twist that no one, not even Argott, expected.

A few months after adopting him, Argott took Ernie to a nearby pet store/groomer that had gotten great reviews online. It was time for Ernie to get some much-needed pampering.

Argott dropped him off for his day at the dog spa, and when she arrived to pick up Ernie a store employee asked where Argott had gotten the dog. The employee said Ernie looked like a puppy that was stolen a few months prior in a brazen burglary.

Someone had broken into the shop through the front door and stolen just one dog: Ernie.

Ernie after being rescued by the La Habra Police Department.
Photo provided by Communications Dispatcher Christina Argott

“She showed me the picture and my heart sank, and I said, ‘Yeah, it’s him,'” Argott said. “I said, ‘What do I need to do right now to take this dog home?'”

The shop wanted either the dog back or to be paid for him.

Argott paid the shop, right then and there, so that Ernie would be hers with no complications.  She just could not let him go. He was her dog.

“Had I not gone to that groomer, I would never have known (Ernie was stolen property),” Argott said. “It was just a fluke thing.”

Ernie, a Yorkshire Terrier who was rescued from a burning car, is popular whenever Christina Argott takes him for a visit to the La Habra Police Station.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

These days, 12-pound, 9-month-old Ernie has an active social life, and spends time with Argott’s parents’ three dogs and her sister’s two dogs, as well as with her boyfriend’s cat, Lucy Bootsie. He loves riding in the car, visiting the dog park, playing with his squeaky toys, and running around when the sprinklers are running.

Ernie, a Yorkshire Terrier adopted by La Habra Police Department’s Christina Argott after being rescued from a car fire.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

When Ernie visits the police station now, he’s known by his nicknames: Hot Dog, Fuego and, of course, Smoky.

“He’s well taken care of,” Argott said. “He’s very loved.”

Ernie had a rough start in life, but he has found his forever home with Argott. Who knew that a vehicle fire call would have such an impact on the dispatcher who sent first responders to the scene?