As the value and profile of purebred and crossbred dogs are on the rise, so are incidents of dognapping. The theft of pet dogs was once a rare occurrence, but has become a specialized criminal enterprise. Like car thieves, dognappers tend to target specific types of dogs. Toy breeds such as Chihuahuas, Yorkshire terriers and Maltese are especially desirable to dognappers as they are in high demand and can fetch upward of $2,500.
According to American Kennel Club spokesperson Lisa Peterson, “The value of pets in people’s lives has been on the rise over the years, so thieves are trying to capitalize on this.” The AKC's 21st Century Dog Owners Study estimates that 88 percent of people think dogs are a member of the family. “Since animals are members of the family, thieves know people may pay a ransom,” says Peterson. “They may also steal them to use as breeding stock, but the monetary value of those pups would be greatly diminished since the dogs won't have AKC registration papers.”
An increasingly common ploy dognappers use is to pretend to be prospective buyers of puppies that have been advertised for sale. Breeders should be cautious of home visits by potential buyers. They should ask for detailed information and ID before allowing them into the home, and always have a friend or family member present.
Once a dog has been taken, the thief may wait for a reward to be posted before contacting the dog's owner and offering to return the dog. This may be done under the guise that they bought it from someone else and want to be compensated for the fee they paid. In cases such as this it is advisable to contact your local police before making arrangements.
Dog owners should take special care to prevent their canine companions from being vulnerable to theft:
- Never leave your dog unattended in a yard as it may become a potential target of dognappers.
- Keep gates and doors to your home locked.
- Never leave your dog unattended in the car, even if it is locked.
- Never leave your dog tied up outside a store or restaurant.
- Protect your dog by making sure he is wearing ID tags and has a tattoo or microchip. A microchip is a permanent form of ID that is slightly larger than a grain of rice and is placed just under the skin by a veterinarian. It is encoded with an unalterable code that can be read with a scanner. This is one of the best ways to identify your pet and make it more likely to be recovered. For more information on microchips, go to www.akccar.org (the AKC Companion Animal Recovery program) and www.HomeAgain.com.
- When you take your dog for a walk, be sure to keep it on leash so it can't wander off.
- Be vigilant and aware of people watching you or your dog; stay in well-lit areas and keep a cell phone handy at all times.
- If someone approaches you to ask about your dog, don't divulge details, especially not the purchase price of your dog or where you live.
- If purchasing a dog via an advertisement, be careful you are not buying stolen goods. Ask for some proof of ownership, e.g., American Kennel Club registration papers, veterinary records or microchip registration.
If your dog has been stolen, post flyers with a current photo of the dog throughout your neighborhood and at local pet businesses such as veterinarians, pet stores, groomers and training schools. You can also list your lost dog online at www.DogDetective.com.
© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints