Do you have a dog or a cat? Are you keeping them safe from pet theft? According to Ines de Pablo, founder of the pet safety company Wag'N Enterprises, the theft of our furry friends has been on the rise in 2011. And the American Kennel Club agrees -- pet theft is up 32 percent this year, according to its national database.
"The pet theft industry hasn't suffered much from this economy at all," said de Pablo, who founded her company in 2007 when she saw how many pets were abandoned after Hurricane Katrina. "This is a multimillion-dollar industry … . A lot of people think of it as a quick and easy way to make a buck."
While many may think puppies are the most popular target for pet thieves, older pets are just as valuable. De Pablo said this year, thefts are being reported from shelters and adoption events, which is a first.
"Believe it or not, they're used as bait for exotic animals, or a dog fighting group," she said. "They can also be sold to a lab for testing. The cruelty is just horrifying, but it's all about making a little extra money. We've even heard of pets being held for ransom. People think of their pets as children and they'll pay the money no questions asked just to get them back."
Here are de Pablo's tips on how to keep your pets safe.
Never leave them in the car unattended: "People always think it's OK if it's 'just five minutes. I'm just running in for a Red Bull, I'll only be five minutes.' That five minutes could be deadly for your dog," de Pablo said. "People are breaking in to cars fordogs of all types, and they only need one minute to get it done. Even if you lock your car. If someone wants your dog, they will get it."
Don't disclose too much about your pet to strangers: "If a person approaches you and wants to know, 'How much did you pay?', don't answer," she said. "Many people are proud of their dog's lineage but keep it to yourself. That makes you a target. And don't trust someone who is asking these questions who doesn't have a dog with them. They are most likely looking for something to steal."
Avoid tethering your animal to a tree outside a store: "These are prime targets," she says. "People think it won't happen to them because they live in a nice neighborhood, or they're only running in for a cup of coffee and will watch the door. But one cut of the leash and that dog is gone for good."
Always have a picture of you and your pet: "I recommend that no matter where you go, keep a picture of you and your pet handy," she said. "This is your proof of ownership, and you can use this to make a poster if you lose your pet."
Small tricks can make a big difference: If you have to leave your pet in the yard for any length of time, de Pablo suggests that you put a bell on your gate so you can hear if it opens. And don't let your pet accept treats from strangers. "Some may try to feed your dog something that will make them go to sleep, so be sure not to let them eat cookies from strangers," de Pablo said.
Get a microchip: It sounds obvious, but judging from the number of stolen pets, people still aren't doing it — and collars aren't enough anymore.
"Collars and tags can be removed so make sure you have a microchip," de Pablo said. "If you move, be sure to update the microchip information." (visit http://www.akccar.org to enroll your pet in a 24-hour recovery service.)
Don't become part of the problem: "If you see someone selling dogs on the street or from your car, do not buy from them," she said. "Every day we see ads in the paper or on Craigslist that we know are not reputable. You need to ask for papers, and meet the breeders. If people refuse to answer your questions, walk away."
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