The postal worker was stunned when the package moved by itself and fell to the floor. Then came the sounds of heavy panting.
Within minutes, she and co-workers had unwrapped a tightly sealed box and rescued a 4-month-old puppy that a Minneapolis woman tried to mail to Georgia.
"It's just crazy," said Minneapolis Police Sgt. Angela Dodge.
The air holes the woman punched in the box were covered up with mailing tape, and the priority mail trip would have taken at least two days, she said.
"It was supposed to be a birthday gift for a family member. It would have been kind of traumatizing to get a dead puppy," Dodge said. "If you don't identify it so that it can be handled properly, it goes into the cargo hold of an airplane. (Temperatures get) 40 below in those cargo planes that get up 40,000 feet. And there was no food or water. Puppies can't go for long periods without food or water."
The dog would have been dead on delivery, agreed police spokesman Sgt. William Palmer. "I've been doing this for 17 years. This is a new one on me."
The woman, Stacey Champion, declined to tell police why she decided to mail the puppy, Dodge said.
Champion paid $22 to send the black poodle-Schnauzer mix puppy named Guess to Georgia via priority mail, said Thompson Ojoyeyi, supervisor at the Loring Station post office. The worker who accepted the package asked all the standard questions: Any perishables, liquids, hazardous materials?
Champion said no, but then she cautioned postal workers to "be careful, be careful" as they handled the box because "it was so delicate," Ojoyeyi said.
On the outside of the package Champion wrote "This is for your 11th birthday. It's what you wanted," he said. She also told the clerk that if sounds came from the package, not to worry, it just contained a toy robot, Ojoyeyi added.
When the box began moving and making noise, workers called a postal inspector - the Postal Service's enforcement arm - and got permission to open the package, Ojoyeyi said.
Guess "was so happy to get out," Ojoyeyi said. "We gave him water and he drank so fast."
"How could someone do this kind of thing?" he said. "For us, it was very unusual."
The Postal Service will ship some live animals such as bees, certain small and harmless cold-blooded animals, chicks and ducklings. But sending dogs and cats through the mail is a definite no, he said.
Champion was cited for misdemeanor animal cruelty and has 10 days to appeal. The dog is now at the city's animal control facility. If Champion declines or loses her appeal, Guess would go up for adoption. So far, Champion hasn't notified authorities that she wants the dog back, Dodge said.
She did, however, return to the post office to demand a refund for the $22 she paid to mail the puppy. She also wanted a small amount of money she had attached to a makeshift dog collar returned to her.
Postal workers nixed the refund and told her to contact law enforcement about the collar currency. "We asked her, don't you want to know about your puppy? But she said no. She just wanted her money back," Ojoyeyi said. "It's just weird to mail an animal like that in a package all covered up. We don't know what she was thinking about."