While the AKC is only able to track thefts using media reports and information provided by its membership, they recorded 71 thefts in 2008, 162 in 2009, and 212 in 2010. These figures represent an almost 300 percent increase in stolen dogs over a short two year period.
According to Lisa Peterson, the AKC's director of communications, the primary reason thieves steal dogs is for fast cash resale in a down economy. Sales of dogs over the Internet have created much greater opportunity for stolen dogs to be sold.
Peterson says the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day and Mother's Day seem busiest for stolen pets: "You have these two holidays where giving a cute little puppy or dog as a gift might be endearing, but the dog may be stolen," she said.
Dogs are taken from backyards, and in some cases, thieves are breaking into homes and taking them.
Having a beloved pet stolen is much more traumatic than losing material possessions to thieves. Just ask Jenna Plumb, who lost her 2 year-old Cockapoo to a thief who broke into her apartment:
"It was extremely violating," said Plumb, a graduate student at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. "Just to have like a living thing taken from you … that's what made it really personal for me."
Dogs are stolen for a variety of reasons. Some are taken to give as gifts, some are stolen and become the thief's personal pet, and others are stolen to be sold for quick cash, often over the Internet.
According to Lisa Peterson of the AKC, the types of dogs that most often come up missing are puppies, toy breeds and purebreds that look expensive or unusual. Among the most stolen breeds in 2008 were Yorkies, Poodles, Pomeranians, Shih Tzus, Bulldogs and Corgis. Owners also reported the theft of a Norwich Terrier and a Mastiff.
Where Thefts Commonly Occur
In addition to thefts from backyards and homes, dogs are also taken from pet stores, animal shelters, and right off the sidewalk when a dog is tied up outside a restaurant or other local business. Some dogs have been snatched from parked cars while their owners are inside a store.
Some thieves watch classified ads for local puppies for sale and break into breeders' homes while they're out to steal entire litters. Another type of thief steals a dog and returns it for the reward money, making up a story about how he 'found' the dog or a friend gave it to him.
According to law enforcement agencies, despite the increasing number of incidents of dog snatching, most thefts are crimes of opportunity rather than planned events. The dog is there, no one is watching it, and the thief snatches it.
Dogs are the most common target of thieves, but it's not unheard of for cats to be snatched as well.
How to Keep Your Dog Safe from Thieves
- If you have a backyard and your dog is ever out there alone, make sure your fence is secure and your gate is closed and locked.
- Never leave your dog outside while you're away from home.
- Never allow your pet to roam free around the neighborhood.
- Don't leave your pet tied up outside your home, a neighbor's home or a local business. It takes only seconds for a thief to untie your pup and walk away with her.
- Don't leave your dog in an unlocked parked car, or one with the windows down far enough that the dog can be removed through a window. When in doubt, err on the side of safety and leave Buster home during warm weather.
- Make sure your pet is wearing a collar with a current ID tag at all times. Rather than imprinting the dog's name on the tag, put 'Reward for Return' instead, along with at least one current phone number. (It's better if a thief can't call your dog by name.) My pets' tags say 'REWARD IF FOUND, NEEDS MEDICATION' with my phone number on them.
- Keep recent photos of your pet on hand. They should show her at different angles, her coat color, her face in close-up, and any unusual physical characteristics she has.
- Store photos with your proof of ownership paperwork like adoption papers, bill of sale, etc.
If Your Precious Pet is Stolen
Try not to panic. First things first -- call the police and make a report.
Next, begin your own search by taking the following steps:
- Make up fliers with your dog's picture, your phone number, and information about a reward for return if you're able to offer one. Offering a reward can encourage a thief to call you if he sees a flier that says 'CASH FOR SAFE RETURN' in big letters. Give a good enough description of your dog that he can be recognized, but hold back at least one identifying characteristic that you can use to verify whether a person responding to the flier actually has your dog.
Post your fliers in the area where your dog was last seen, in grocery stores, community centers, vet offices, animal shelters, mailbox clusters – anywhere the flier has a chance to be noticed by lots of people in your neighborhood or community.
- Walk and drive through the area your dog was taken from as often as you can. Talk to neighbors and passersby. Take fliers with you and pass them out.
- Visit and/or call your local animal shelters, humane society and rescue organizations and let them know your dog has been stolen. File the appropriate lost-pet reports. Leave fliers behind. Emphasize any reward you are offering for the safe return of your pet. Return at least twice a week to local shelters and view stray animals yourself.
- Place ads in newspapers and online (for example: www.missingpet.net, www.petfinder.com, www.findfido.com). If you receive a call from someone who says he has your pet, be cautious. Don't answer questions, ask them. Have the caller describe your pet in sufficient detail that you can be relatively sure it is your dog he has. You can also ask the caller to give you the information on the ID tag.
If the caller seems to be withholding information, is more interested in receiving money than returning your pet, or wants to meet you in some out-of-the-way location, it's probably time to involve the police. Unfortunately, scams abound. People who actually find a lost pet usually want only to return the animal to its rightful owner. If a caller seems suspicious or uncooperative to you, chances are he doesn't have your pet.
- Perform online searches for dogs fitting your pet's description. It's possible the thief is trying to sell your stolen dog over the Internet.
- Don't give up your search too quickly. Dogs and cats gone for months have been returned to their owners.