This week I was completely freaked out by an article that I read in the news about the Texarkana animal shelter in Arkansas that was broken into. Five Pit Bulls, one cat, 1,000 pounds of dog food, along with puppy vaccination kits were stolen. According to the shelter, this is the fifth time in two months that they have been broken into, and over the course of those break-ins nine Pit Bulls have been stolen.
The only good thing is that this time, the shelter had video surveillance footage of the break-in that shows two men entering the shelter and taking the dogs. Two teenagers have been arrested, but the dogs have not been found. Shelter employees are concerned that the dogs have been taken to be used by dog fighters, but the younger of the teens told authorities that the dogs ran away.
The idea that someone would break into a shelter and take dogs is terrifying to me, but dognapping isn’t limited to these kinds of high-profile cases. Dogs are stolen all the time from their loving families, and that’s even scarier to me. Dognapping is big business, and dogs are taken for all kinds of reasons: dog fighting, to be bred in puppy mills, or to be “flipped” and resold either to pet owners or to laboratories for research.
We all handle the fear of our dogs being stolen in different ways. Last month I was at the pet store buying dog food and a customer in front of me refused to allow a pet store employee to give her dog a treat, saying that she doesn’t permit strangers to feed her dog because she worries it will make it easier for someone to dognap her dog. I know that I get nervous when people, especially teenage boys on the street, start to ask me a lot of questions about my shepherd mix. Like, is she mean? Will she bite? Where do you get a dog like that? Innocent questions, maybe, but living in an area of NYC where I know dogs are trained for fighting, I get wary.
Here are a few tips for keeping your dog safe from dognappers:
For those of you who have fenced backyards, it can be easy to assume that your dog is safe behind the fence. However, leaving a dog alone for any length of time unsupervised leaves them vulnerable to get into things, to be teased or tortured or poisoned by someone outside the fence, or even to be dognapped. If you are going to leave your dog alone in your backyard, ensure that your dog is not visible from the street. Better yet, always bring them inside when you can’t monitor their play.
I’m a little obsessive so my dogs all wear lots of tags, and are also microchipped. Obviously identification won’t stop your dog from being taken, however a microchip (or tattoo) is the only guaranteed method for ensuring identifying information stays on your dog. If police recovers a stolen dog, a microchip is likely the only thing that can help that dog get home to a loving family.
I live in NYC so I don’t see a lot of dogs in cars, but literally every day I see people tie their dogs outside of bodegas and coffee shops so that they can run in and grab a bagel or a cup of coffee. It terrifies me! It would only take a moment for someone to untie the leash or remove the dog from it, and the dog is gone down a crowded sidewalk. Similarly, dogs left in parked cars are an easy target for dognappers. If you’re running errands to places that aren’t dog friendly, just leave Fido at home!
Many parks have off-leash hours but not a specific fenced dog run. If your dog has a 100 percent solid recall and will call off of chasing something, then letting your dog play off-leash is a calculated risk you can take. However, it’s very easy for a dog to get spooked and run off, leaving them vulnerable to all kinds of dangers (I regularly see postings in my neighborhood about this having happened). Keeping your dog on-leash also prevents them from being lured away by a dognapper.
As dog people we all love to talk about our dogs, and once someone gets us started it can be hard to get us to shut up. But be smart about what you say. If someone stops you on the street to ask about your dog, be thoughtful about what kinds of questions you answer. Avoid talking about how much you paid for your dog, and definitely don’t providing details about where you live.
This is common sense for pet owners anyway, but having an intact dog can make them more vulnerable to being dognapped. Many thieves are looking for dogs that can be used or sold to individuals breeding in puppy mill settings.
Have you ever had a dog stolen? What steps do you take to prevent it? Let us know in the comments!
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About the author: Sassafras Lowrey is a dog-obsessed author based in Brooklyn. She is the winner of the 2013 Berzon Emerging Writer Award from the Lambda Literary Foundation, and the editor of two anthologies and one novel. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Instructor, and she assists with dog agility classes. She lives with her partner, two dogs of dramatically different sizes, and two bossy cats. She is always on the lookout for adventures with her canine pack. Learn more at her website.