FREMONT — A man was in critical condition late Thursday after falling through the skylight of a pet shop from which burglars earlier had stolen 17 purebred puppies worth at least $11,000, police said.

The man, believed to be the 28-year-old co-owner of Puppy Love Boutique on Mowry Avenue, suffered head and chest injuries in the Thursday morning fall, police said. He had been showing investigators the spot from which he thought the burglars had entered during the previous night, Fremont police Detective Bill Veteran said.

The man fell about 15 feet through the skylight, the opening of which leads to the outside of the building. During the fall, the man may have hit an outside wall of the building before landing on the walkway in front of the business, Fremont Fire Acting Battalion Chief Ron Chaney said.

The man was taken by ambulance to Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, where he remained Thursday night.

The fall occurred about 10:30 a.m., some 90 minutes after police began investigating what is believed to be the city’s first major puppy heist, Veteran said.

Burglars broke into the building, apparently through the skylight, and stole the dogs and their paperwork, Veteran said.

The dogs “ranged between 9 and 13 weeks (old) and sold for $650 to $1,100 each,” said Veteran, a spokesman for the police department.

“It is obvious to police that whoever did this knew what they were doing,” the detective

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said.

Breeds stolen included poodles, Shih Tzus, St. Bernards, corgis and Dalmatians.

Police said they were following “strong leads,” but would not discuss specifics.

Although the theft happened at the same pet shop that recently had been the site of a protest for suspected links to puppy mills, police said there was no indication that the theft was related to the protest.

“It does not appear to be,” Veteran said.

A store employee reached by telephone confirmed Thursday afternoon that the fall victim was a co-owner, but refused to comment further.

According to Veteran, who has been with the Fremont Police Department for more than two decades, this is the first major puppy heist in the city’s history.

However, it is the second dog theft in the city within the last 18 months.

In June 2007, a 4-month-old English bulldog named Ava was stolen from the American Animal Care Center, where it was being boarded.

A man walked into the business three days before the dog was supposed to be picked up, asked for the dog by name, and it was released to his custody.

Authorities said they have made no arrests in that incident.