Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's a dog-gone crime

Animal theft on the rise; take steps to protect your four-legged friend

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The 101 Dalmatians story may be alive and well in Canada. While the goal of dog theft might not involve a crazy woman gathering hundreds of black and white puppies to make a coat, Canada does have individuals willing to steal dogs for myriad other reasons -- and Winnipeggers could be among the victims of the practice.

This is what Danijel Garanovic believes happened to her dog. After a near-fatal car crash eight years ago that left her with lingering injuries, she chose a furry companion to help boost her spirits while she went through rehabilitation. Lily, a pure-bred Bichon Frise, has been her little saviour.

Lily went missing Jan. 27, after a loud noise scared her and she bolted.

Garanovic has done everything she can to find her pup. She's contacted the necessary institutions, put up missing-pet notices, posted information on Winnipeg Lost Dog Alert, and walked throughout nearby neighbourhoods in search of Lily.

There have been some sightings. One led her to a home in the North End, where Garanovic says a young boy admitted to having the dog but claimed "his cousin stole it from him." When the boy was asked for his cousin's name he "couldn't remember," she says.

This suspicious incident leads her to believe that her dog was found and possibly sold for profit.

Since Lily requires a special diet, Garanovic worries about the dog's health and well-being, a concern that compounds the stress she has been suffering.

Recently, a lost local mastiff that required a daily dose of medication was found too late; despite an extensive search effort and multiple sightings, the dog died.

Garanovic's situation has stirred up a hornet's nest of concerns and accusations within the dog community. There's a lot of anger over the idea that someone would find a dog and sell it -- pet owners compare it to the kidnapping of a family member. Unlike a car or personal item, a lost dog with a unique personality can't be replaced with insurance coverage.

On Feb. 14, a movement in the United States celebrated the 24th Annual Pet Theft Awareness Day. According to a 2011 CBC report, the American Kennel Club has reported a 50 per cent increase in dog thefts. It's suspected that dogs are taken from owners, breeders and shelters to sell for profit, research and even dog-fighting rings.

While some readers might see this story as a U.S.-based problem, dog theft happens in Canada. Wherever there's potential for profit, there's potential for theft.

A few years ago, the website Dog Files highlighted another Bichon Frise theft. The dog was stolen directly from the hands of an 84-year-old Toronto man -- the thief interacted with the victim, took the dog and hopped onto a bus. Police were able to use bus cameras to find the man and rescue the dog.

And last December, a CTV report showed two women in Surrey, B.C., being arrested for what pet lovers would see as an incredibly egregious crime. The women were charged with theft under $5,000 for allegedly taking bulldogs from a residential backyard. One of the women owned a pet-rescue service; the other was the facility's co-director. The women are accused of targeting and stealing dogs with the intention of reselling them. According to the report, this was not the first time these women were accused of this type of crime.

Thankfully, our tight-knit dog community in Winnipeg would likely sniff out such an organization if it attempted to set up shop in our area. Nevertheless, it's troubling that anyone would steal dogs while purporting to be someone who rescues them.

So, what do you do to protect your pup? The American Kennel Club offered the following advice on The Dog Channel:

-- Don't leave your dog alone for long periods in your backyard.

-- When approached on walks, don't share purchase price of your dog and never tell strangers where you live.

-- Puppy breeders should remain vigilant when meeting potential buyers, as they might be gathering information about your home.

When you're out and about:

-- Don't leave a dog unattended in a car (especially when unlocked and/or when valuables are also in the car).

-- Don't leave your dog tied up outside when you visit stores.

While veterinarians don't likely check every microchip or tattoo with new patients, they can be useful tools if you need to prove that you are indeed the owner of your dog. Also, get a licence -- if your stolen dog is found and you find yourself in court in a he-said/she-said situation, a licence can help to prove ownership.

When a pet is lost, owners are distraught; not knowing the fate of the pet is the worst part. Garanovic is no different: "I know she's alive somewhere and I'm asking for any public help."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 28, 2012 C5

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