Just before walking into a Manhattan deli, a man ties his dog to a parking meter outside the store. He grabs a coffee, pays for it and walks out. Total time: about 5 minutes.
The dog is gone without a trace. He never sees him again. Unfortunately, this is not a made-up scenario to highlight a growing problem. "This happens frequently," notes Linda Fields, a journalist who founded FindFido.com, a nonprofit pet locater site, where people can post pictures and notices of lost pets.
Dog theft is a crime that is hard to measure in statistics. Some have put the number of total pet thefts at 2 million a year. (Because pets are considered property, the numbers are lumped with other property crimes). However, it is often hard to discern whether a pet was stolen or simply wandered off and got lost. In her experience, Fields estimates that about 10 percent of the 1,460 dogs listed on www.findfido.com were stolen.
According to National Pet Recovery, a private pet recovery company, about 41 percent of the cases reported to them involved a stolen dog. About 47 percent of lost dogs were those allowed to run loose.
Whatever the numbers, dogs are stolen for several reasons: Money. This may take the form of an outright ransom, but the usual method is to wait for a reward to be posted, then call the dog's owners and say they found him wandering around.
Dog fighting. This may seem unusual because most stolen dogs have sweet temperaments – otherwise a thief may be deterred. Unfortunately, dogs are either "conditioned" to fight by cruel training methods, or used as "bait" to train other dogs to fight.
Cult rituals. Often done for kicks, black dogs (and cats) are at particular risk around Halloween.
Some animal rights and welfare people also say that stolen dogs often wind up at laboratories across the country. Under a procurement practice called "random source collection," the U.S. Department of Agriculture licenses individuals to sell animals to laboratories.
There are two types of licenses: Class A and Class B. Class A are breeders. Class B are individuals who obtain dogs and other animals from various other sources. The USDA investigates to ensure the animals are legally obtained. However, animal groups contend that pets are being stolen and sold for profit by Class B licensees (called "bunchers"). A bill, HR 594, is under consideration now in Congress to eliminate Class B licenses.
Sometimes theft is no more complicated than an angry neighbor who takes your dog to the pound when you're not around.
Keeping Your Dog Safe
Secure your yard. Ring it with a fence and make sure the gate is closed (and preferably locked).
Don't leave your dog outside when you're not around.
Never leave your dog unattended. It takes only a moment to untie him and lead him off.
Be aware, and make sure your neighbors are aware, of the problem of pet theft. Let your neighbors know if you are expecting people on your property if you are not around, so they know to call the police if someone unexpected shows up.
Never allow your dog to roam free in the neighborhood for everyone's sake.
Never leave your dog unattended in a car.
Always make sure he wears a collar with his ID tags. You might want to consider implanting a microchip under his skin. Shelters and veterinary hospitals use microchips to identify lost animals and reunite them with their owners.
Keep recent photos of your dog, taken from different angles that clearly show coat type and coloring, close-ups of the face and any exceptional physical characteristics.
Keep all your proof-of-ownership papers (adoption, breeding contract, bill of sale) in one place to prove ownership.
If the unthinkable happens, don't panic. Call the police if you believe your dog has been stolen, then begin your own search. Search the area, talk to neighbors and passersby. Walk or drive slowly through the area several times daily. Hand out copies of recent photographs.
You should also post notices with pictures of your dog throughout the neighborhood, in newspapers and with radio stations. The Internet has become a more widely used tool to track down lost pets in recent years. There are a number of free sites on which people post images and exchange information. Three sites of these sites include:
For more information on what steps to take to find a lost pet, see the story What to Do If Your Dog Is Lost.