Greenpoint Gazette

Dognapping: Recession’s Forgotten Consequence

BY Alexis Buisson

Recessions are traditionally tough on humans, but dogs also pay a huge toll to the ailing economy. Last month, several animal advocacy groups urged dog owners to cling to their pet as the holidays approach, as the recent value increase of pure and crossbred dogs and the ongoing recession have dovetailed into a sharp rise of dognappings citywide.
“As the economy goes south, behaviors go south too,” claims Laurie Bleier, President of the Brooklyn Animal Foster Network (BAFN), a non-profit animal advocacy organization founded in 2005. “You need to be careful now more than ever before.”
In April 2008, the American Kennel Club (AKC) released figures showing an alarming increase in pet thefts (dogs and cats) in New York City, from 30 in the first three months of 2008 versus just 10 the first trimester of 2007. Some believe that those figures might even be underrated given that some dog owners, too embarrassed to admit that their pet has been stolen, report it as “lost.”
“There is definitely an increase,” said Phyllis Taiano. Over the past two years, this sale assistant at Citi Group who owns three dogs has been monitoring dognapping cases across the city, collecting press clippings and navigating the web in search of profiles of stolen dogs. “I stopped doing it because it quickly got out of hand.”
Dognapping cases have sprouted in New Jersey and Manhattan’s Upper West Side where a 10 year-old Maltese was stolen last April after the thief broke into the owner’s car. Incidents have also included armed robbers entering breeders’ homes to puppies being stuffed into purses at pet stores.
“Dogs are a sign of wealth and disposable income,” analyzes Rebecca Pole, a volunteer at the McCarren Park Dog Run Association, and the caring owner of Sanford, a rescue dog named after the sitcom character “Fred Sanford.”
The 94th Precinct, which covers large parts of Greenpoint, indicated last Monday that no dognapping cases have been reported recently.
Still, dog-friendly communities such as Greenpoint and neighboring Williamsburg are likely turfs for dognappers. In the past years, gentrification has poured a dense population of dogs into the neighborhoods, spurring the opening of dog-friendly businesses, community dog runs and other dog-related facilities.
“I would say that it is gang related,” claims Rebecca Pole speaking of dognapping, adding that the sprawling gentrification process here had given the issue an extra layer of complexity: “When people get displaced by a wealthy group, you might feel a bit of anger,” she says. “Dogs are held hostage for thousands of dollars.”
In some cases, rewards for lost/stolen dogs can reach stellar amounts. The latest case reported in Williamsburg, a Boston Terrier called Molly stolen on Havemeyer and South 2nd street last year, was returned to its owners in exchange of a $2,500 reward. “The thief waits for the reward to go up before giving the dog back,” warns Phyllis Taiano. “They play on people’s feelings. Many owners would be ready to do anything to get their dog back.” Her personal research has shown that “significant rewards,” that is over $1,000, prompt three quarters of stolen dog returns.
When not “held hostage,” stolen dogs, which are mostly small and purebred, are reportedly taken to labs for scientific research, trained to enter underground dog fighting rings or given to shelters where they are euthanized within three days if not collected by their owner.
Animal advocates assert that dog owners, who sometimes leave dogs unattended in their car or outside a store, are generally unaware of the looming threat until they get hit. “People just don’t realize the responsibility of owning an animal. They feel that their dog is an accessory,” Taiano declares. “We need to constantly educate them.”
Dog owners at the McCarren Park Dog Run last Monday morning admitted that they didn’t know who to turn to in the event of a dognapping. “When you get your kid stolen, you know where to go,” said Austin Divino, a Greenpoint resident who owns Snyder, a three-year old Brussels griffon. “But where do you go to when dogs get stolen? It’s scary.”
Owners should contact the local precinct, file a report with Animal Care Control (ACC), post a profile online on such websites as www.dogdetective.com and mobilize their community through the local media, flyers and hand outs written in several languages specifying the dog’s medical condition, animal advocates suggest. Should you use a dog walker, “be sure that you have met him, hiring by word of mouth is better. Ask for references too. I would also ask to see where and how he lives,” Taiano recommends.
But looking for a lost or stolen dog can be a lone-rider. “Often police are more concerned with high profile cases that get public attention,” she continues. “They just don’t care.”
Taiano thinks that dog thieves are taking advantage of a judiciary loophole. “There is no law punishing dog thieves. Dognappings are usually dealt with in small crime courts,” she says.”It is an underestimated area of the law.” She plans on starting a petition to push for legislation deterring dognappers from reoffending and obligating shelters to give back found dogs to their owners, which is accordingly not the case today.
In the meantime, keep an eye on your pet. “Don’t leave your dog unattended,” urges Rebecca Pole from the McCarren Park Dog Run Association. “You would never leave your kid alone in a car or outside a store. It’s common sense.”

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