How to avoid the tragedy of pet theft

In February, two Long Beach Post articles detailed the theft of a pit bull puppy named Hazel from a local family’s front yard. One of three thieves reached over a wall and grabbed the little dog, and another jumped into the yard to steal the other one, a bull terrier named Chico. Thankfully, Chico was having none of it and charged the intruder.

Just days later, without police intervention, someone anonymously returned Hazel, possibly because of the detailed video footage of the suspects that the family made public.

“The video got around so quick, they returned the dog so quickly—the police said that’s one for the books!” said Angel Valadez. “I can’t believe that someone could be so low.”

Pet theft is increasing nationwide. The Long Beach Police Department reported eight dog thefts from Jan. 2021 through Feb. 2022; three were listed as grand theft and five as petty theft. Sources cite 2 million animals reported stolen every year, and the number might be larger considering that other animals may not be reported stolen or were believed to be lost or have run away. In February 2021, two of Lady Gaga’s French bulldogs were stolen at gunpoint from her dog walker.

But whether you’re Lady Gaga or parents with crying, inconsolable children like the Valadezes, you’d likely agree that the theft of a cherished furry or feathered family member is heartbreaking and heartless and that the penalties for the theft aren’t stiff enough. Most states have laws against cruelty to animals, but domestic animals are considered to be only property in every state. That would seem absurd to anyone who’s ever loved an animal.

Reasons people steal someone’s pet

Even if you’ve never agonized about a stolen or missing pet, wondering whether they’re being fed properly or at all, if they’re being abused, if they’re pining for you the way you are for them—even if you don’t have a pet, you might wonder how anyone could stoop to that level and why they’d do such a thing. There seem to be two main reasons: utter selfishness and greed. Pets aren’t cars or catalytic converters or priceless heirloom brooches, but like these things, they can be traded or used for profit.

The main reasons for pet theft include:

  • Dog flipping Google this—it’s a hokey term for stealing someone’s pet and selling them online for a huge profit. Feckless flippers also adopt purebred lookalikes from shelters and rescues for the same purpose and will sometimes go so far as to claim a pet that someone found, pay any reward offered by the actual human, and sell the pet for several times as much as the reward amount. If you have found a pet and have flown an ad or tacked up flyers, always ask for proof of ownership such as photos and tags before relinquishing.
  • Breeding and overbreeding The most commonly stolen dogs are small purebreds, which are easily to lift unless they have Chico Valadez’s moxie. French bulldogs, American bulldogs, Yorkshire terriers, Maltese, designer dogs and Chihuahuas are among the dogs most frequently taken; so are puppies of larger breeds like German shepherds and Labradors.
  • Sale to puppy mills See above.
  • Bait dogs and fighting dogs Puppies, usually Dobermans, German shepherd breeds and pit bulls can be trained to bait fighting dogs or raised to fight themselves. Kittens and rabbits are stolen for this horrible purpose, too.
  • Rewards Thieves sometimes steal animals and wait for a reward.
Keep them close

People who treat their pets as family members don’t even think “my property” when protecting them, but law enforcement advises taking similar precautions to preventing theft of anything.

“The LBPD reminds our community to remain vigilant, avoid entering into altercations with any suspects, and call 9-1-1 if they find themselves the victim of a theft,” said Brandon Fahey, LBPD public information officer. “Pet owners should also incorporate robbery and burglary prevention strategies into their daily routines to reduce the likelihood of their pet being taken from them either at or away from home.”

Here are some ideas for keeping your furry members safe:

  • Most importantly, don’t leave your pets outside to wander or unsupervised in the yard or on porches.
  • Get your pets microchipped. If they’re taken and manage to escape, those chips practically guarantee a ride home, and they can’t be removed the way a collar and tag can. They also serve as proof as ownership.
  • Keep your dogs leashed when walking them, and stay off your cell phone. Give your surroundings your full attention. Don’t tie them up outside a business.
  • For Pete’s sake, spay or neuter your pet. Cats are less likely to wander, and a dog unable to reproduce is worthless to a backyard breeder.

If your pet is stolen, here’s another handful of bullets:

  • Immediately report the theft to the police.
  • Create a flyer with your pet’s name, fur and eye color and other identifying marks, where the pet was last seen, and a 24-hour contact number. Post them everywhere–veterinary offices, animal shelters, coffee houses, shelters and on social media–and notify your local animal shelter as well.
  • Do what the Valadezes did and see if there’s any camera footage. Share it publicly.
  • Check your shelter’s intake list, Nextdoor and other social media that features found pets. Facebook has several localized ones.
  • Check lost-pet databases
  • Check out online ads and postings of pets for sale. Look for descriptions that would mark the animal as yours.
  • Walk around the neighborhood and call your pet’s name in the chance that they’re somewhere close.
  • If someone calls saying they have your pet, ask specific questions to make sure that they really have the animal. Ask where the pet was found, especially if you’ve offered a reward. Whatever you do, don’t confront the person without contacting law enforcement. If you’ve filed a police report already, that’s a big help.

Pet-finding services like Pawboost can be helpful. Pawboost’s services include a flyer, a Facebook post and alerts to residents living in your area. Upgrades are offered for a fee. (Take care that you check out any message from anyone claiming to work with Pawboost. Like everything else, Pawboost scams are out there.)

Hazel Valadez is happy now, at home with her grateful family, who thank the public for sharing the video footage. Angel Valadez said that Hazel and Chico no longer go outside without supervision.

 

“We bring them outside, we play with them outside, and then we bring them in,” Valadez said. He hopes that everyone will learn from his family’s experience.

“The first night she’s missing, I was wondering if they were feeding her,” he said. “My kids were crying all the time. When she got back, she was skinny and dirty. It took us three days pampering her to get better. She looked afraid, and she got back to normal.

“I wouldn’t want to happen to you what happened to me. Thanks to everyone who helped get Hazel back. She’s our family.”

 

Stolen puppy returned to family anonymously after being taken Friday afternoon

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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.”
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