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How to Protect Your Pet During LA’s Canine Crime Wave

Dognappers are targeting designer breeds like French Bulldogs, so we asked a pet detective for tips on how to keep your pup safe.

by Sean Zucker
April 4, 2022
A cute dog standing outside with a leash looking up.
Photo: J Danielle Wehunt / Stocksy

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“Dognapping” might sound like a catnap with more snoring involved, but it is far from something to sleep on. Last February, a group of men robbed Lady Gaga’s dogs, shooting and hospitalizing her dog walker, Ryan Fischer, in the process. However, authorities did not believe the attack was linked to her high profile. Instead, it was indicative of a larger, growing concern among the city’s pet parents. 

Dognapping Is on the Rise In LA 

“This was a brazen street crime that left a man seriously wounded,” Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement. “We have alleged very serious charges in this case and have faith that justice will be appropriately served as this case unfolds in court.” Gaga did have her pups returned without harm, but that was only after a hefty $500,000 reward was offered. The story highlighted a growing problem in So-Cal that, unfortunately, doesn’t usually end with the dogs returning home. 

“They’re either being sold or they’re being bred,” says JoAnn Powell, co-founder of Dog Days Search and Rescue, a California nonprofit that helps owners find their lost pets. “They know if [a dog] has not been altered they can breed it, or if it’s been altered, they know they can sell it at a higher price.” 

Depending on the breed, dogs are being sold for anywhere between $3,000 and $10,000 according to Powell. It’s why many designer dogs, such as Goldendoodles, Malteses, and Yorkshire Terriers are popular targets. It’s also why, above all, French Bulldogs seem to be by far the most common victims. And while particular breeds are a newer aspect, dognapping has been an issue for some time. 

“People have been stealing dogs for a long time. It’s only in recent years that there’s been particular breeds, like Frenchies or Bulldogs that have taken up a popularity with celebrities. So therefore they’re getting more publicity because of it. They’re the type of dog that’s getting stolen and now it’s making news but it has been happening for a while,” says Powell. 

Complicated Origins of the Town’s Problem

Another culprit of this increase in dognapping is the same reason for so many problems in this country — misguided and vaguely written legislation. “One of the reasons dog thefts were rampant,” Chris DeRose founder of Last Chance for Animals told LA Magazine, “was that Class B dealers were actually licensed to steal pets by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for many years. They’d ‘legally’ steal your dog and sell it to breeders or researchers. Five years ago, we got the practice of Class B dealers — a Class B license is issued to dealers whose business includes the purchase and/or resale of warm-blooded animals — declared illegal.” 

DeRose, a former actor known for his appearances on detective dramas like Cagney & Lacey, CHiPs, and The Rockford Files started Last Chance for Animals nearly four decades ago with the mission to halt animal exploitation and fittingly quickly became a leading pundit in dog-related crime. Beyond being quite possibly the most LA story ever, his experience is indicative of how long this has been an issue in the area and the speed at which it has developed. 

However, not all dog thieves are driven by sinister intentions. In fact, in many cases, it’s quite the opposite according to Karin TarQwyn, a private investigator who specializes in pets. “The most commonly stolen dog is a French bulldog. But in most cases, people aren’t stealing the dog. Mostly, when a person takes what they think is a stray bulldog, they just think they’re being a good Samaritan or abiding by finders keepers,” she told Slate.

The American Kennel Club has also previously pointed toward the Great Recession as a cause for rising canine theft. The AKC suggests that when the economy dips, people may not be willing or able to pay for rescue fees or the going rate of a new dog, while others may look at it as a means of earning extra cash through selling.

How To Help Prevent Dognapping 

As TarQwyn describes it, this problem is likely not going away any time soon because there are simply very few repercussions for this form of theft. “The truth is that they’re not going to get in any trouble — the risk of taking a dog is not very high,” she explained to Slate. “Police are never interested in the case, since it’s your word against the other person’s.” While it is of course not the owner’s fault if their pet gets grabbed, there are a few strategies to minimize your risk and prevent future abductions according to Powell. 

1. Microchip your dog.  

Possibly the most effective solution is to ensure your dog is microchipped. If a dog is stolen and sold to someone ignorant of the pet’s true origins, when they bring them to the vet for initial screenings the situation will quickly be clear. 

2. Buy a GPS dog collar. 

Similarly, if you have the means, purchase a smart collar or one with GPS tracking available like a Whistle Switch. This way, you’ll have a window to locate your dog until the collar is removed, which in many cases can be a significant amount of time and enough to get them back home safely. 

3. Keep your pet on a leash. 

When protecting your dog from thieves, it’s best not to make it easy for them. But that’s exactly what walking your dog without a leash is doing. Not to mention, it’s a bit inconsiderate and dangerous for other pups who may be reactive

4. Don’t leave your dog unattended. 

Powell recommends not leaving your dog in the front yard unless it is secure and private enough that they’d not be visible to bystanders. Additionally, don’t leave your dog unattended in a car — that’s too easy for dognappers. 

5. Be careful who you buy from. 

If you’re purchasing rather than adopting a pet, make sure they’re from a source you can trust. “People should be cautious when purchasing any of these breeds and make sure they know where the animal is coming from,” says Powell. “Don’t just buy them off some for-sale site without doing the research and making sure they’re reputable breeders.”

Beyond that, if you’re bringing a designer dog into your life, it’s important to recognize the additional caution that’ll be necessary. As Powell puts it, “If they buy an expensive breed that they know is more inclined to be stolen, they need to be careful about their home. They need to make sure they have security features in. They need to be careful about who they talk to about having their new pets in the home.” 

Sean Zucker

Sean Zucker

Sean Zucker is a contributor at The Wildest, whose work has also been featured in Points In Case, The Daily Drunk, Posty, and WellWell. He recently adopted a Pit Bull named Banshee whose work has been featured on the kitchen floor and behavioral issues rival his own.