LOS ANGELES - More owners are reporting lost or stolen pets, but the online nation is coming to the rescue.
The number of dogs being stolen in the United States has gone up dramatically in the last few years, the American Kennel Club says. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says thefts skyrocket in New York every summer when residents combine walking the dog with running errands.
Police will take a report if there's a witness or if a pet is extremely valuable. But animal-loving social media bloodhounds have jumped to help, alongside any number of dog-finding companies, devices and apps.
Nearly 70 percent more dogs were stolen across the country in 2011 than a year earlier, said AKC spokeswoman Lisa Peterson. "It was the largest jump since we started keeping track in 2007," she said.
The club collects media reports about stolen pets and retrieves data from the AKC Companion Animal Recovery database, a mix of microchip filings and customer calls, she said. In 2011, the AKC recorded 432 stolen dogs, compared with 255 in 2010.
The numbers only skim the surface, she said. Facebook and Twitter are flush with lost or stolen pets.
Better records are impossible because the law defines pets as property, so even if a police report is filed, it won't be flagged just because a dog was taken, explained Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Kevin Maiberger. If an animal is valued at more than $950, the crime will be bumped up to grand theft, but it still won't mention pets except in the list of stolen items, he said.
A lack of records doesn't mean a lack of tears though, said Cora Bennett of Somerset, Ohio.
Marissa Banik, her daughter, didn't stop crying for hours after pugs Chloe and Pugsy were stolen from their yard on Aug. 20.
Bennett and Banik called animal shelters, put up fliers, posted the theft on Facebook and other sites, called police, searched the neighborhood, talked to neighbors, posted a reward and followed several leads, Bennett said. "They are her babies," Bennett said.
Joanne McGonagle of New Lexington, Ohio, a friend of Bennett's, helped spread the word about Chloe and Pugsy on Facebook.
She also relayed the happy ending. A utility employee who saw the poster on Facebook called Banik and said he saw two pugs tied up at a service station. A service station employee watched surveillance footage and got the license plate of the car the pugs were in, McGonagle said. That employee saw the car outside a market, confronted a couple and threatened to call police so they gave him the pugs, she said.
There was a joyous reunion at the Banik home. "We had a big party. Everybody was coming over and giving them treats and loving on them and it was awesome," said Bennett, chief sitter for her "granddogs."
Peterson said pet thefts are all motivated by economics. "Some may want a dog but can't afford the adoption fees. Some are stolen directly out of stores because they don't want to pay the price. Some are stolen to sell and make money on the Internet or on a sidewalk. Some are held for ransom or given as gifts," she said.
To prevent loss or theft of your pet, Peterson recommends:
— Don't leave a dog unattended in a yard, especially if it's visible from the street.
— If a stranger approaches to admire your dog, don't answer questions about the pet's value or where you live.
— Never leave a dog alone in a car. Thieves in search of GPS systems or laptops may let a dog out.
— Don't tie your dog outside a store. If you have errands, use pet-friendly stores or leave your dog home.
— Use a collar tag and a microchip with updated online information.
If a dog does go missing, an owner should contact local animal shelters and neighbors. If anyone saw the theft, police will get involved. Some local newspapers, radio and TV stations put missing pets on their websites.
Digital services like petamberalert.com, lostpetcards.com and findtoto.com are growing, too. Each year, there are 10 percent to 15 percent more callers to petamberalert.com, said founder Mark Jakubczak.
For a fee (starting at $99.95), the service will call neighbors with a computer-generated message and fax posters to pet-related businesses. Jakubczak said recovery ranges from 62 percent to 84 percent, he said.
"Every year we find more and more pets, so it's very rewarding," Jakubczak said.
HomeAgain offers a free app called petrescuers, which taps into a network of 900,000 people nationwide. You have to be a member to report a lost pet, but there is no charge to those who find pets, said company spokesman Ryan Smith.
Other petfinding companies include ipetalert, lostpetusa and lostpettracker.
"Losing your dog creates anxiety, panic. It's devastating, you don't know where your best friend is," Peterson said. "Time is of the essence. The longer you wait to get the word out, the farther away they could be
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