Reports and video of pet thefts have owners on high alert.
In a surveillance video from earlier this year, Teffiney Worthy and her dog Hendrix were seen going up the stairs after their early evening walk in Washington, D.C. Shortly afterward, a masked man ran up the stairs and threatened her.
"Said, give me your dog or I’m gonna kill you,” Worthy said the thief told her. “It’s just traumatizing; I don’t even know where to go from here."
AKC Reunite provides identification services to ten million pets with implanted microchips.
“12% of the pets reported lost to us are reported as having been stolen. The number of pets reported stolen to us has increased140% over that four-year period,” said Tom Sharp, President and CEO of AKC Reunite.
Most stolen pets are dogs, though AKC Reunite says some cats are reported stolen too.
Sharp says thieves operate in several ways as they look to profit off the high demand for pricey pups. Sometimes the crime is the result of a bad breakup.
“A French Bulldog puppy can go anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000. So, people may want a French bulldog, but they don't have that much money to spend. If a thief can steal it and then resell it for $1,000, then the person buying that dog thinks they've gotten a deal,” said Sharp. “Maybe a couple lived together. They bought a dog together, and then they split up, and one takes the dog, or one keeps the dog, but then the other person comes to the house and takes it when the one is away."
Sharp also says something as basic as a pet’s bathroom break can turn into a crime of opportunity.
“We've just heard reports of people letting their dog out in the front yard to relieve itself, and someone comes by and sees the pet unattended and snatches it from the front yard,” said Sharp.
But pet theft can be dangerous and deadly. In 2021, thieves shot Lady Gaga’s dogwalker and stole her two French Bulldogs.
The singer, whose name is Stefani Germanotta, told TMZ she was offering a $500,000 reward for the return of the dogs.
Former FBI agent Frank Montoya Jr. told the Daily Mail that paying would “open up a pandora’s box."
A woman returned the dogs and asked for the reward, but a judge said she had "dirty hands” and ruled Germanotta was not required to pay.
Sharp offers three tips to help combat pet theft.
“Number one, of course, microchip your pet and enroll it in a 24/7 recovery service. The microchip is not a GPS device, so you can't just activate it and find where your pet is from the microchip,” said Sharp.
A GPS collar, like the one by Whistle Labs, can be removed by a thief, but the tiny implanted microchip can help authorities identify and return a stolen pet.
“Number two, and I know this can be hard, but don't leave your pet unattended outside. Lots of times we've heard that pets were stolen when they were let out the front door to relieve themselves,” said Sharp.
Number three? Don’t overshare on social media.
“If you are also sharing where you live or the environment that you're keeping that pet in and then just putting that out there in the world, then you can be inviting people to come in and take that pet from you,” said Sharp.
No statistics exist on how many stolen pets are eventually retrieved, but Worthy was among the lucky ones.
A private detective, funded by online donations, helped Washington, D.C., police officers retrieve her beloved Hendrix.
“It feels good to know that Hendrix and I have a strong community that cares,” Worthy wrote.
Others who had their stolen pets returned say the relief is immeasurable, prompting pet lovers to revise their safety plan for their pint-sized pals.
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