July 24, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Pet poachers

It’s hard to imagine someone being cruel enough to steal a family pet, but it can and does happen. Being aware and taking precautions are the best way to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

Never let your pet roam free in the neighborhood. Besides the obvious dangers of traffic, dognapping by unscrupulous people might include someone looking for a free pet, backyard breeders looking for purebred dogs to use as breeders, thieves who sell animals to research labs or — any pet owner’s worst nightmare — dog fighters looking for pets to use when training their dogs to fight.

If you leave your dog outdoors alone, even within the seemingly safe confines of your yard, it’s best if he isn’t visible from the street, because it only takes a minute for thieves to steal a pet. When you’re not home, always keep dogs and cats indoors. Never leave an animal unattended in a car or tied outside a store or restaurant, even for just for a minute.

Altered animals are less likely to stray from home and are useless to backyard breeders, so have your pet spayed or neutered, especially if it looks like a purebred.

Never talk to strangers about the value or bloodlines of your pet. If a stranger approaches you about buying or breeding your pet, tell him it’s been spayed or neutered, even if it hasn’t. Write down the person’s name or license plate number and keep a close eye on your pet afterward.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture licenses individuals as animal dealers. Class A dealers breed and raise animals to sell to pet stores, research institutions and other dealers. Class B dealers acquire dogs and cats obtained from shelters (in states where it’s legal), animal auctions and from unlicensed dealers and common thieves, collectively referred to as “bunchers.” They sell to biomedical researchers or other dealers. Watch for vehicles, especially trucks and vans, you don’t recognize cruising your neighborhood. Plates may be missing or covered with dirt.

An ID or dog license tag will help your pet find his way home if he becomes lost, but tattoos and microchips are more permanent types of identification. The microchip, about the size of a grain of rice, is implanted under the skin and read by a chip scanner. Tattoos used on dogs are similar to those used on humans. In both cases, the number is registered to the owner and can be traced on a database. If your pet ends up at a research facility, researchers are required by law to look for tattoos and scan for microchips. If one is found, they must trace the pet back to the owner. Remember to update information if you move, and it may help bring your dog home if it’s sold to a lab or abandoned by a backyard breeder because it’s fixed.

Dog fighting is a violent and highly secretive enterprise that has been reported in urban, suburban and rural settings all over the country, but in rural areas, it can go undetected longer. Some fighters use stolen, inexperienced dogs as sparring partners. The easiest way for bunchers and dog fighters to obtain animals is to answer “free-to-good-home” ads, promising owners they will provide pets with a loving home. If you must find a new home for your pet, charge an adoption fee, check vet references of the prospective adopters and deliver the pet to their home rather than letting them take it from yours.

Fights can take place in a variety of locations, at any time and can last several hours. Telltale signs of dog fighting can include a large number of chained dogs kept in one location, dogs with scars on their faces, front legs and thighs, many missing pets in a neighborhood or unusual traffic coming and going from a location at odd hours. Dog fighting is a felony, but is difficult for law enforcement to discover and prosecute unless it’s reported. If dog fighting activities or animal cruelty is suspected, alert the authorities. One phone call from you could spare the suffering of countless innocent animals.

Treat your companion animals as you would a small child. Know where they are at all times and keep recent photos of them on hand. If you suspect your pet has been stolen, tell neighbors who have pets and contact the police to file a stolen property report. It’s important that a report be on file to identify your pet, if found, and to help prosecute thieves. We want to assume the best about people and their intentions, but when it comes to animals that are vulnerable, it’s very important for us to take precautions.

Barnosky can be reached via e-mail at petlady@roadrunner.com or by writing The Gazette, 885 W. Liberty St., Medina, 44256.