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Bark if You Think Dognapping is on the Rise

Statistics show this much-heralded media story is more myth than fact.

A flurry of stories on TV, in newspapers, magazines and on the Internet about a month ago heralded information from the American Kennel Club that dognapping is on the rise.

You could say the media is “lapping up” the story. But I think it’s chasing its tail. 

Numbers from Joliet and Will County police departments aren’t trending upward at all. 

But then, Joliet police don’t catalogue this crime — and one reason would be its sheer infrequency. Stealing pit bulls for dog fighting is a much bigger problem in this area than a Chihuahua in a diamond necklace being taken for ransom. Sorry, Beverly Hills Chihuahua. And despite my fondness for 101 Dalmatians, I don’t think Cruella de Vil will be knocking on my door anytime soon. Sorry, Frosty. 

Lisa Peterson, director of communications for the American Kennel Club, told USA Today during the first seven months of 2011, there were reports of 224 stolen dogs, compared with 150 during the same time period last year. That’s a rise of 49 percent. Overall last year, there were 255 dogs reported stolen, up from 162 in 2009 and 71 in 2008. 

Nationally? C’mon guys, the headlines should say “Dognapping up slightly.” Because if one dog is stolen in 2010, and two in 2011, that’s a 100 percent increase, right?

Ken Kaupas, spokesman for Will County sheriff’s police, said there were five dogs reported stolen in 2009, four in 2010 and three so far this year.

But then again, when Ken was a little kid growing up in Chicago, someone DID steal his dog.

“He was taken right out of our back yard,” he said. “But one of my brothers found it a few blocks over; one of his friends had spotted it.”

And the editor of the Joliet Job Corps Jaguar Press, Martha Hernandez, said neighbors stole her dog, too. But they brought the little pit bull mix back.

“They said he was too much trouble,” she said. “Can you imagine someone just walking up to you and handing you your dog back?”

Kaupas said, according to Will County sheriff’s police statistics, 75 percent of all dogs reported stolen here were either pit bulls or pit bull mixes. One dog was taken in a “domestic incident” in 2011. Most of the incidents happened in Lockport and Joliet townships. And he knows of only one dog in this area taken for ransom.

At the Joliet Police Department, a spokesman said the best guess was maybe five dogs have been reported stolen in the past several years. “We don’t track or code it,” the spokesman said.

One media outlet that didn’t “bite” on this made-up story is Slate. It said “The AKC’s statistics are shaky, since it covers a rare, indeterminate, and underreported crime. (What dog owner surveying an empty back yard thinks ‘Sugar’s been stolen!’ rather than ‘Sugar ran off!’?)

“Peterson says that she compiles the numbers from news stories, police reports, and reports made to the AKC’s Companion Animal Recovery service. The number of news reports is contingent on the number of dog thefts, yes, but likely far more contingent on awareness about dog theft. In other words, the AKC’s continual news blasts about the rise in stolen animals may become self-fulfilling.”

So which is it, folks? Is your pooch “prey?” Or are gullible readers more prey to an urban myth — which, repeated often enough, can turn itself into fact?

Either way, we are all better off if we observe some common-sense safety precautions: like not leaving your dog in your car, not tying it up outside a coffee shop while you go in and not leaving it in your front yard unattended. I’m like the 86 percent of dog owners surveyed by the AKC who said their dog is family. I wouldn’t leave my baby in a car, tied up or out in the front yard!

Jan Larsen is an outreach and volunteer coordinator for Joliet Job Corps and proud mother of Frosty the Wonder Dog and two Siamese cats who are really just average. She can be reached at janettellarsen@aol.com.

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