Pet Theft: Keep Your Friends Close and Your Best Friends Closer

dog-help

Photo by Dani LoBianca Lana

Kat Hernandez is desperately trying to find out who has her Chihuahua, Boots. On Friday, February 5, Boots and Hernandez’s two other dogs took a powder from her yard when they went outside to relieve themselves, Hernandez said. Two of the dogs, both pugs, came back, but Boots didn’t. And Hernandez is frantic.

“I went out looking for her all Saturday—nothing,” she said. “On Sunday, I printed flyers and looked for my baby again. A lot of neighbors told me that a lot of Chihuahuas have gone missing, that someone has been stealing them.”

Hernandez is especially concerned because Boots is equipped with both tags and a microchip, and anyone who might have picked her up would hopefully have checked or called. And Boots is only one of 2,000,000 pets stolen every year, as reported by Last Chance for Animals and cited by Petfinder.com; sadly, only ten percent make it back home.

Boots

Hernandez is offering a reward for Boots. Visit Lakewood Lost and Found Pets on Facebook and scroll down to Boots’s posts. Photo by Kat Hernandez.

Reported instances of pet theft in Long Beach have included only one in which the pet was immediately returned. In 2008, a dog was snatched from the arms of an 8-year-old boy by an 18-year-old man; the media coverage, police action and a drubbing-down by the man’s grandmother led to an almost immediate return of the dog. In another situation that happened in the beginning of 2008, a helper dog belonging to a young girl with a medical condition was taken along with the family car while the family was shopping. To this date, it’s unknown whether the dog was returned. And there are scores more that have either not been reported or highlighted by news media.

Dogs: Most Frequently Taken

Dogs are the pets reported stolen the most often, generally for financial gain as breeders. Wandering cats may go missing when people who don’t want them on their property make off with them and either dump them elsewhere or do away with them. Parrots, too, have been stolen from porches and yards, and last April, a giant tortoise was taken from a backyard. Reptiles seem to fare better; herpetology enthusiast Steve Strichart says that he doesn’t usually hear about stolen reptiles unless it’s from a store that has a membership in the herpetology club he belongs to. He does read about it sometimes on Facebook, however, and every now and then one turns up at a reptile show.

“The thing is, herp people look out for one another and it just isn’t that often you hear about reptile thefts,” Strichart said.

Sites like Next-door and Lakewood and Long Beach Lost and Found Pets have posts about pets that were stolen or presumed stolen among the announcements of antique furniture for sale and animals up for adoption. Social-media users may remember a recent posting by a Long Beach resident who reported that her dog had escaped the neighbor’s yard where he’d been staying. She subsequently received a letter stating that the dog had been found, but the finder’s daughter had become attached to him and the family decided to keep him. Whether the dog was returned is a mystery because the resident abruptly removed the post. But things like this do happen—June Levine can attest to it. Levine was living near downtown Long Beach several years ago when her 10-year-old cat, Giant, wormed his way out the back door. He didn’t come home, and she put flyers up.

“Finally, someone called and said she found the cat,” Levine said. “She lived one block over, and I said, can I come get him? Turns out she gave him to an older couple who lived in another city, who would keep him indoors and keep him safe, she said. I begged her to give the cat back—I had him for 10 years! I went to the town they lived in and put flyers all over, in vets’ office and Petco. I even got into a huge fight on the street at home and called cops. They said there was nothing they could do. I was heartbroken—all I could think of was, what was he thinking? Did I send him away? Did he think I didn’t love him? It broke my heart. I never saw him again. He was the sweetest, friendliest cat I’ve ever had.”

Pets Legally Considered Personal Property

L.A. County District attorney Deborah Knaansaid that such finders-keepers cases may be handled as civil cases if not criminal, and an attorney would likely have to be engaged. Sgt. Bradley Johnson of the Long Beach Police Department Media Relations Department concurs, saying that police reports should immediately be filed when a pet is stolen or “found” and not returned, as with any property crime.

Pet theft is indeed a property crime in California, and the fines are no stiffer than for any inanimate object of the same monetary value. Only a handful of the subsections of California’s property theft section (Penal Code Sections 484–502.9) relates directly to animals; again, it’s regarding how much they’re worth on paper. Subsections 487e, 487f and 491 specify dogs only (stealing a dog worth more than $950 is considered grand theft, and anything less is petty theft): generally stated, “dogs are personal property and their value is to be ascertained in the same manner as the value of other property.” Livestock has its own section, and cats and parrots didn’t even make the C list. And it doesn’t look as if it’s changing anytime soon.

“There is currently no effort in California to alter how pets are classified under state law, though discussion around this topic generally has occurred in the past,” said Kevin O’Neill, vice president of state affairs for the ASPCA. “Moving pets out of the property-theft category would entail an immense amount of work to make sure the changes are reflected throughout the code— which is extensive in California—and to make certain the change doesn’t inadvertently impact penalties or other associated statutes and render them useless. Legislation is rarely 100 percent clean, and with something like this, you would have to make sure it was tight so you are not creating unintended consequences.”

Knaan, who heads the DA Office’s Animal Cruelty Division of the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office, has been a crusader for animal rights for nearly 20 years and has seen everyone’s share of extreme cruelty. She believes that such a legislative change would be a very good thing. “I think there are several good reasons for doing that, not the least of which is that I believe it would change the public’s and law enforcement’s perception of what is acceptable when it comes to how we treat animals,” she said. 

That’s encouraging for anyone who has the time to march on Sacramento and change the law, but meanwhile, it’s not wonderful news for human and animal victims of pet theft. Sgt. Johnson said that what you should do if you believe your pet has been stolen is to file a report immediately by calling the non-emergency line at (562) 435-6711. Have your pet’s licensing, photo, microchip information (please get one for your pet), and any other paperwork at the ready for proof of ownership.

And look out for your pet. Know that they’re taken for reasons that may be as benign as taking a liking to the animal and as malevolent as bait for fighting dogs and breeding for profit until the breeder is dead on her paws and discarded. Petfinder.com offers the following guidelines:

  • Spay and neuter your pets. Fixed animals are less likely to stray from home.
  • Keep your pet indoors, especially when you are not at home. Do not leave animals unattended in your yard; it only takes a minute for thieves to steal your pet. Do not let your pet roam free in the neighborhood (remember that indoor cats live longer, safer lives).
  • Keep companion animals safely inside your home when you are expecting repair personnel, meter readers, or guests.
  • Properly identify your pet with a collar and tag, microchip, and/or tattoo.
  • Know where your pet is at all times.
  • Maintain up-to-date licenses on your pets.
  • Keep recent photos and written descriptions of your companion animals on hand at all times.
  • Be aware of strangers in the neighborhood. Report anything unusual such as suspicious neighborhood activities or missing pets to the police and animal control.
  • Padlock your gate; outdoor dogs should be kept safely behind a locked gate.
  • Make sure that your animal is not visible from the street.
  • Keep your pet on a leash whenever you go outside.
  • Do not tie your pet outside a store to wait for you.
  • Never leave an animal unattended in a car.

Last Chance for Animals has selected Valentine’s Day, February 14 as Pet Theft Awareness Day. Click the link for information about keeping your best friends close to your heart.

“We need, in a special way, to work twice as hard to help people understand that the animals are fellow creatures, that we must protect them and love them as we love ourselves.”
~ César Chávez

Support our journalism.

Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.

Kate Karp is the Pets Columnist for the Long Beach Post covering the world of animal activism, pet adoptions and lots of cute cats. She’s called Long Beach home since 1994 and has written for the Post for about 10 years. Kate’s day job is as a copyeditor, which she discovered a love for during her 30-year tenure as a teacher. She describes the job as “like taking the rough edges off a beautiful sculpture.”
- ADVERTISEMENT -

More