Hot Dogs: Theft of Canines Is on the Rise, Report Says

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The American Kennel Club is reporting a sharp rise in dog-napping so far this year, and recommends keeping your pup on a short leash.

In the first seven months of 2011, the AKC estimates that there were 224 cases of dog theft, as opposed to 150 during the first seven months of 2010. That represents an almost 50% increase—though the total is still miniscule compared to the tens of millions of dogs living as pets in the U.S.

The non-profit dog breeding association bases their numbers on media reports and information from customers who use their animal recovery service. They distinguish between lost and likely-stolen pets by only counting those missing after break-ins and the like. “We are getting reports almost daily of pets stolen during home invasions, out of parked cars while people are running errands and even snatched from dog lovers out for a walk in the park,” says spokesperson Lisa Peterson. But deciding that a pet was stolen instead of lost is often a fuzzy business, meaning the threat could be overblown (or under-blown).

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Why would someone steal a dog? As with most dastardly acts, the motivation is expected to be money, whether the napper is reselling a pure-bred, using the dog for breeding, or even using the animal in a dog fight. Peterson says some people steal them for themselves or to give them to friends as pets. The Chicago Sun-Times recently reported a case in North Carolina that sounds more like traditional ransoming:

A suspicious dognapping happened to Debbie Hawes’ son Zach in Knightdale, N.C. After posting a missing pit bull report, she said, Zach discovered second-hand through a rescue group that the dog had been found. But the person who recovered it didn’t want to return it directly to the owner, and he wanted a $125 fee.

In order to keep your dog safe, the AKC cautions owners to keep their dogs on leashes, to avoid leaving them unattended in a yard and to be cautious with divulging information about a dog out to curious strangers. They likewise recommend never leaving your dog alone in a car, even if it’s locked, or tying a dog up outside a store.

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Katy Steinmetz is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @KatySteinmetz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.