Brock University Earth Sciences professor and former Pelham Town Councillor Uwe Brand, with Riley. DON RICKERS

Depending on who you talk to, dognappings may be on the rise

There’s a bit a crime wave across the pond, and it’s a doggone problem.

The coronavirus pandemic in the UK, as in Canada, has forced many people to work from home, and they have been craving canine companionship. The demand for dogs has pushed up the price for puppies, which has sparked a dramatic increase in dog thefts. One British charity, DogLost, has reported a rise from 172 dogs stolen in 2019 to 465 abducted in 2020.

Beverley Cuddy, editor of Dogs Today magazine in the UK, told the BBC, “In lockdown, everyone wanted a dog and the prices went up and up. The criminals looked at those figures…and put two and two together.”

It is a terrible situation, traumatic for a dog that’s been separated from its home, and heartbreaking for the owners over the loss of a beloved family pet.

A high-profile pet abduction took place in Hollywood recently, when pop star Lady Gaga’s two French bulldogs, Kuji and Gustav, were stolen at gunpoint while out for a stroll with their walker, who was shot. The singer offered a $500,000 reward for the pooches, which was paid to a “Good Samaritan” who said she found them in an alley in Los Angeles, miles from where the dognapping occurred. Police are still investigating the woman’s story.

The American Kennel Club has advised dog lovers that it’s important to safeguard their furry friends, just as they would their homes and automobiles. Most thieves are “dog flippers,” said the AKC, who abduct an animal with the intention of reselling it for a quick profit. Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Chihuahuas, and Yorkshire Terriers are high-value dogs that are prime targets for thieves who plan to “grab and run,” but all breeds are at risk.

Local pet owners in Niagara will be somewhat relived to know that, at least according to police, dog thefts are rare in the region.

NRPS Constable Phil Gavin told the Voice, “The theft of dogs is not something we have seen a lot of during the pandemic. In the very limited number of cases that have occurred, the parties involved are known to each other. We are not seeing a trend with strangers stealing pet animals.”

Dave McMahon doesn’t share that view. He is a canine behaviour professional who has been operating a dog training academy for some 35 years in Niagara Falls. He taught a course in dog behaviour at Niagara College for 25 years, and still hosts a radio show called Dog Talk on CKTB 610 AM.

Sinead Megna with Fable, whose sibling, Dakota, has been missing since mid-February from their property at Balfour and 16 Road. Megna says that since Dakota’s disappearance, she has learned of three other Rottweilers going missing. SUPPLIED

“The number of dogs thefts is on an incline upwards,” said McMahon. “A lot of people are letting their guard down. The advice I give to folks is to make sure that they never leave their dog unattended. Dogs have been stolen regularly from people’s backyards, lured with food. The other common mistake is when owners leave the dog in their vehicle while they run into the store or the bank.”

Purebred animals are worth a lot of money, said McMahon, and thieves will sell the dog by word-of-mouth on the street, out of town, sometimes out of province on the black market.

“You can’t buy a $400 registered dog from a breeder. Those days are obsolete. Nowadays some breeders want thousands of dollars for a puppy,” said McMahon.

McMahon encourages owners to get their dogs microchipped through their veterinarian’s office for ease of identification if they go missing. A standard veterinary procedure would be to check for a microchip in a newly adopted pet. This process has led to the recovery of stolen dogs.

If your dog goes missing, immediately report it to the police, and call your veterinarian and the microchip company, as well as any lost-dog or stolen-dog databases in your area, including local shelters. You should also distribute fliers and get the word out on social media.

“Buy a surveillance camera for your house and yard,” advised McMahon. “They are very affordable now, and they will definitely help deter dog nappers.”

McMahon said that there are people who specialize in recovering lost or stolen dogs, and recommended Shar Spinosa and her company K9 Trackers.

Spinosa has been a dog profiler and locator for many years, and asserted she has recovered some 100 lost and abducted canines in Niagara. She noted that not all missing dogs have been stolen. Some have escaped their enclosures, or disappeared through misadventure. But Spinosa agrees that dog theft is on upswing, due to greed and the perceived easy profit of selling a stolen animal.

“It seems to regularly occur as a crime of opportunity,” she said. “And all these pups were desirable breeds.”

Spinosa said that there are some reputable dog rescue groups in the region, but advised people to be wary of online sites that sell and “re-home” dogs. “There are a lot of scammers out there,” she said.

Kevin Strooband, Executive Director of the Lincoln County Humane Society, agrees that it’s buyer beware when purchasing a dog online.

“Make sure you do your due diligence,” said Strooband. “Some scammers online will send you pics of beautiful puppies, and ask for a $1000 deposit on a $3000 dog. Once they get your money, they cut off communication. I hear it quite a bit.”

Strooband said that there are times when he learns about a dog getting stolen, only to find out later that it involved somebody who didn’t like the way the dog was being treated, so they went into the backyard and took the animal, with the intention of putting it in a better home.

“Last year, the number of dogs both arriving at the shelter and reported missing have gone down, and adoption rates have increased,” said Strooband. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have asked people to step forward and foster pets on a temporary basis. Typically in past years, we may get ten people inquiring, and a couple will foster pets. But during the pandemic, we had 60 people come forward and they all took pets, which pretty much cleaned out the shelter.”

Rather than taking a chance online, Strooband advocates adopting through an organization like the humane society.

“And I would underscore the importance of getting pets microchipped.”