APPLE VALLEY - Annie Lancaster's heart dropped and she began to have a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach when she arrived at a warehouse where she kept supplies for her non-profit organization that helps the homeless and their pets.

She wasn't just upset because someone had broken into and stolen some much-needed items but because this was the second time it had happened in just hours.

"We are way over 10 grand in losses," Lancaster said Sunday of the two burglaries, one Friday night and the other early Saturday morning. "If someone contacts me right now and says they need something, we have nothing to give anyone."

Lancaster was dropping off donations to the Mojave Desert Animal Rescue's Apple Valley warehouse Friday evening. When she walked into the storage area, she found a number of items missing.

"It was horrible," she said.

She called the San Bernardino County sheriff's Apple Valley station to report the crime.

Investigators said the crooks most likely got onto the property by cutting a portion of the chain-link fence and then managed to break into the storage building.

After hours of checking the property, the sheriff's deputies, Lancaster and a few volunteers finally left around 11 p.m., she said.

The next morning she received a shock.

"They came back and they cleaned us out twice as bad as the first time," she said.

This time, though, they not only took emergency supplies for the homeless and their pets, they also vandalized the warehouse.

"You can tell they just threw things across the room and just completely trashed the place," she said. "I mean who does that? We had signs in there that clearly said we were a charity and there were pictures of the homeless people we've helped and their pets and they still had the heart to do something like this? I just don't understand."

Lancaster's organization helps the High Desert's homeless and low-income families and seniors keep their pets by providing items and supplies for both the animals and their owners. It also helps provide veterinary care, but the animals must be spayed or neutered in order to receive the aid.

The thieves took or destroyed enough supplies that could help her clients and their pets for a year and fit snugly in the large storage area, Lancaster said.

That has now been reduced to three pickup truck loads, she said.

Many of Lancaster's friends and supporters are also at a loss.

"I feel so helpless as to how I can help her," said Marie Sovitsky of Victorville, who called Lancaster as soon as she learned of the break-in. "Our beloved Annie is crushed."

Lancaster has always had a large capacity for helping others, so much so that Sovitsky said Lancaster did not hesitate to help her friend with a personal favor just hours after Lancaster discovered the second break-in.

"Anybody else would have blown me off, but she was the only one who could help me with what I needed and she still came out to help me," Sovitsky said. " Annie is a walking, talking huge gold heart. I've never seen anyone give so much time, energy (and) focus like she has."

The thieves made off with countless canned food, both for human consumption and for pets, veterinary supplies, jackets, coats, socks, and they tried to drive off with a backhoe but, according to Lancaster, the tractor's flat tires kept the burglars from getting too far.

They abandoned it on a neighbor's property and she discovered it around 2:30 a.m. Saturday.

Several people have already rallied around Lancaster and her non-profit, offering to donate some pet supplies and warm clothing, but she said if she doesn't receive enough donations, she's in real danger of having to close the doors.

"I'm still in shock and I hope that I don't have to, but right now that is a reality," Lancaster said.

Anyone with information on this case is asked to contact the sheriff's Apple Valley station at 760-240-7400 or call sheriff's dispatch at 760-245-4211.

To help, visit the nonprofit's website at animalresq.org.


Reach Beatriz via email, call her at 909-386-3921, or find her on Twitter @IEBeatriz.