VIRGINIA BEACH -- A majority of owners view their dogs as valued family members, which has led to an increase in the value of pets for thieves.
Virginia Beach pet owner Teresa Adkins-James says it's been a nightmare since her beloved English bulldog, Juicy, was stolen from her backyard in April.
'I'm angry,' Teresa said. 'It feels like there's a piece of your heart gone somewhere.'
The American Kennel Club says when they started tracking dognappings in 2008, there were 71 cases. In 2013, there were 609. By June of this year, there have been 275 dogs stolen across the country.
The AKC says the top five breeds thieves want are Yorkshire terriers, Chihuahuas, French bulldogs, Labrador retrievers and Pomeranians. They say these dogs can fetch a pretty penny.
'It's all economic, it's about money, it's a sad situation,' said AKC spokeswoman Lisa Peterson. 'It is criminal activity that's black market, where people are stealing dogs locally or selling them quickly in the community or keeping them for ransom or reward.'
Thieves know pet owners will spend a good chunk of cash to get their beloved pets back. Teresa spent hundreds of dollars to make fliers and for pet Amber Alerts -- phone calls to several homes with information about lost dogs.
After three months, someone spotted Juicy in Virginia Beach. Teresa was able to confirm it was her dog because of a microchip. But Teresa got quite a surprise when she went to pick up Juicy. The people who had the dog said they paid $2,000 for the pet.
'I was in shock -- felt chills, happiness and anger all at the same time,' Teresa said. 'I've been put through the wringer.'
The AKC recommends seeking out reputable breeders or rescue groups before buying a pet.
'Visit the home of the breeder, meet the puppy's mother, and see the litter of puppies. Developing a good relationship with the breeder will bring you peace of mind when purchasing,' the AKC says on their website.
Once you buy your pet, there are several things you can do to keep them safe from thieves:
In the Neighborhood
- Don't let your dog off leash Keeping your dog close to you reduces the likelihood it will wander off and catch the attention of thieves.
- Don't leave your dog unattended in your yard Dogs left outdoors for long periods of time are targets, especially if your fenced in yard is visible from the street.
- Be cautious with information If strangers approach you to admire your dog during walks, don't answer questions about how much the dog cost or give details about where you live.
On the Road
- Never leave your dog in an unattended car, even if it's locked Besides the obvious health risks this poses to the dog, it's also an invitation for thieves, even if you are gone for only a moment. Leaving expensive items in the car such as a GPS unit or laptop will only encourage break ins and possibly allow the dog to escape, even if the thieves don't decide to steal it too.
- Don't tie your dog outside a store This popular practice among city dwelling dog owners can be a recipe for disaster. If you need to go shopping, patronize only dog friendly retailers or leave the dog at home.