February is Dog Training and Education Month (Suncoast Humane Society conducts dog training classes, year around). It is also Adopt a Rescued Rabbit Month (Suncoast Humane Society currently has six bunnies available for adoption). Feb. 20 is Love Your Pet Day (I think that should be every day). Feb. 14 is not only Valentine’s Day, it is also Pet Theft Awareness Day.

If you have ever had a pet stolen, you know the heartache of not only losing a cherished companion, but you also worry forever as to where and how your pet is, why was he/she stolen and for what purpose.

It is estimated that nearly two million pets are stolen each year. The American Kennel Club has been tracking pet theft since 2007, noting a 31 percent increase over the past 10 years. Your pet can be snatched off your front porch, from your parked car, and even from your fenced in yard. Basically anywhere a pet is left unattended can pose a danger for the pet and an invitation for a petnapper.

Purebred dogs lead the pack on the most stolen list. Small purebreds, like Yorkies, Pomeranians, Maltese and especially Chihuahuas, are common targets for they can be sold for thousands of dollars. Some pets are stolen, then held for a reward. Unneutered pets can be sold to backyard breeders or even puppy mills, who can falsify registration papers. Hobby and inter-city dog fighting rings love to snatch breeds that are known for fighting, such as Pit Bulls. Other breeds, mixed breeds, and even cats may be stolen and used as bait animals by dog fighters.

Some years back, when I was with The Humane Society of the United States, I was contacted by a retired FBI agent who had been made aware of a family who was stealing dogs throughout three Midwest states. Upon investigation, it was determined that they were stealing dogs of all sizes, storing them until they could fill a large box truck, and then taking them to a southern coastal state and selling them to a group of deer hunters. The stolen dogs were combined with the “deer dogs” adding their pack instincts to the dogs that were trained to run deer out of the swamps. The trained deer dogs made it, many of the stolen, untrained dogs became victims of alligators and snakes.

There are precautions that can be taken to prevent your pet from being stolen.

• Never leave your pet unattended for any length of time.

• Do not tie your pet outside a restaurant or store while you are inside.

• Do not leave pets in a car, even for a few minutes.

• Keep your dog on a leash when walking.

• Do not allow your cat to roam free. Indoor cats live longer, healthier lives.

• Have your pet spayed/neutered, as they are less valuable and vulnerable to theft and less likely to run off.

• Do not tell strangers that your pet is worth big bucks.

• Be sure your pet is microchipped for identification.

Once you have searched everywhere possible and you think your pet has been stolen, take action immediately.

• File a lost report with every humane society and animal services throughout the area.

• Post flyers everywhere possible.

• Search for online lost and found services.

• Monitor “pets for sale” ads in newspapers, craigslist and all social media.

• Offering a reward can be helpful, but do not advertise the amount.

• If you have located the petnapper, contact law enforcement or animal services. Never approach someone alone.

Never give up hope. Continue to post flyers, monitor websites, and check newspaper ads. And remember, a stolen pet may end up with caring people who realize, through your efforts, they are in possession of a stolen pet. Many stolen pets are recovered and end up back in their happy homes.

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