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Dog Thefts Are Way Up -- Do You Know How to Protect Your Pet?

As a former crime reporter I was trained to sniff out statistics and trends. So when I retrieved my journalist instincts here at the American Kennel Club I discovered an emerging trend affecting dog owners – pet theft.

Since 2007 the AKC has been tracking dog, based on customer and media reports, stolen from owners’ cars, homes and yards among other places. The fact is that for the first seven months of 2011 we’ve tracked a shocking 49% increase in pet thefts nationwide over the same period last year.

Why this sudden uptick in stolen dogs? Certainly money, or lack thereof, and other economic motivations are in play here. People are stealing pets to keep for themselves, not wanting to pay a purchase price or adoption fee. Criminals are engaging in “dognapping” to quickly sell the pups for profit to unsuspecting buyers or waiting for owners to offer a reward, some as much as $10,000, and then miraculously have the dog appear.

We have noticed that smaller breeds like Yorkshire Terriers, Maltese and Pomeranians, along with puppies in general, sadly make up a majority of stolen dogs in the AKC Companion Animal Recovery National Pet Theft Database. We believe some of this year’s increase extends beyond the purebred market, since for the first time we are seeing more mixed-breeds dogs being stolen from shelters and adoption events as well as more pit bulls being taken.

Despite this alarming rise, it is not our intention to create panic among dog owners but to educate them about this potential crime and offer preventive measures and proactive recovery methods. And, yes, despite a myth I hear often, you can file a police report for your stolen dog and we’ll show you how. First here are five prevention tips and then three recovery tips:

FOUR PREVENTION TIPS

1. Don’t let your dog off-leash. Keeping your dog close to you reduces the likelihood it will wander off and catch the attention of thieves. Recently, a woman carrying her Maltese as she exited a convenience store had it snatched out of her arms.

2. Don’t leave your dog unattended in your yard. Dogs left outdoors for long periods of time are targets, especially if your fenced-in yard is visible from the street. For example, a Bulldog in North Carolina was stolen out of his backyard by thieves who stretched the chain link fence to gain access to the dog.

3. Be cautious with information. If strangers approach you to admire your dog during walks, don’t answer questions about how much the dog cost or give details about where you live. In Oklahoma a family was approached in a park while playing with their adorable pit bull puppy, only to be followed home. The next morning a gunman broke into the house, tied up the family and stole the puppy.

4. Never leave your dog in an unattended car, even if it’s locked. Besides the obvious health risks this poses to the dog, it’s also an invitation for thieves, even if you are gone for only a moment. And remember, leaving expensive items in the car such as a GPS unit or laptop will only encourage break-ins.

5. Don’t tie your dog up outside a store. This popular practice among city-dwelling dog owners can be a recipe for disaster. If you need to go shopping, patronize only dog-friendly retailers or leave your dog at home.

THREE RECOVERY TIPS

1. Protect your dog with microchip identification. Collars and tags can be removed so make sure you have permanent ID with a microchip. Thieves will not know the dog has a microchip until a veterinarian or shelter worker scans it so keep contact information current with your microchip recovery service provider. Incredibly, after seven years a stolen Weimaraner puppy was returned to its rightful owner when it was scanned for microchip some 500 miles away from its first home.

2. If you suspect your dog has been stolen, immediately call the police / animal control officer in the area your pet was last seen and file a police report. If your dog has a microchip, ask to have that unique serial number, along with the dog’s description, posted in the “stolen article” category on the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.

3. Canvass the neighborhood and post fliers. Talk to people in the immediate vicinity where your pet went missing for possible sightings of the actual theft.

For more tips and how to get your dog microchipped visit www.akccar.org

Lisa Peterson is Director of Communications for the American Kennel Club. She is a longtime breeder/owner/handler of Norwegian Elkhounds. She also writes the syndicated column Ask AKC.