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Pet Theft Up 50 Percent Since Last Year: Evidence of a Downed Economy or Utter Depravity?

Pets are being stolen and sold on the street to dog-fighting rings or research labs.

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Another underground market deals in stolen purebred pets. Just this month, several pedigreed cats and blue Staffordshire terriers have been snatched from homes near Melbourne, Australia.

Thieves know how much various breeds are worth.

Dog handlers David Peek and Kristina Rickard brought two purebred Akitas and two purebred Welsh corgis from Northern California to show at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship near Los Angeles last winter. Someone stole their van from a motel parking lot with the dogs inside. Asked by cops to estimate the dogs' value, Peek said $500,000.

"They told us we had to put a number on the dogs," Peek says now. "How could I do that? The dogs were priceless. We couldn't replace them. They were family. My girlfriend was in hysterics, because we had lost family. The dogs also represented fifteen years' worth of breeding. You can't get that DNA back. You can't replace that."

He posted news of the theft on Facebook, contacted local media and did a stream of TV and radio interviews. The next day, a woman claiming to have bought the Akitas for $500 in nearby Compton returned them. The next day, a man texted Peek from Victorville -- in the Mojave Desert, too far for the dogs to have walked -- saying he had the corgis and would give them back. No one was arrested.

Roseann Trezza of AHS credits the media frenzy with those dogs' return.

After probable pet thefts, "we immediately contact the local television station. If there's enough media attention, the dog is almost immediately found roaming the streets of Newark because nobody wants to be caught with a recognizably stolen pet."

Beyond the Animal Welfare Act, pet-theft legislation varies locally. In a landslide 58-3 vote this June, the New York State Senate boldly passed S946-2011, which makes pet theft a class-E felony, on par with manslaughter, child-porn possession and certain types of rape, punishable by up to four years behind bars.

Last week an Oregon woman reported that her purebred English bulldog was stolen and being held for ransom by thieves who sent texts demanding $1,000 and prescription painkillers. But all pets are literally fair game. When John Dalton went on vacation three weeks ago, he boarded his cat at an animal hospital in Fanwood, NJ. Abby was an ordinary 5-year-old tabby, a shelter adoptee. Thieves broke into the hospital, stole drugs and cash "and took one pet out of the 10 being boarded there: mine," Dalton says. "They opened her cage, took Abby and all her toys and blankets."

Police believe the thieves were "a guy and his girlfriend," Dalton says, "because guys don't steal cats. Guys steal dogs."

Anneli Rufus is the author of several books, most recently The Scavenger's Manifesto (Tarcher Press, 2009). Read more of Anneli's writings on scavenging at scavenging.wordpress.com.

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