Dog heists highlight need to keep a short leash on your pets to prevent thefts 

When Salley Chan left her beloved dog Lola in her car last Tuesday while she grabbed a quick bite to eat in the South of Market neighborhood, she never expected the 6-year-old Pekingese to be gone when she came back.

But when Chan and her boyfriend returned to their car, which was parked near Bryant and Eighth streets, they found the rear window smashed and the 9-pound animal missing.

“It’s been really devastating,” Chan said. “They could’ve taken whatever items they wanted and left her, but they didn’t.”

Lola has not been seen since.

The Police Department does not track thefts of animals separately from other thefts, a spokeswoman said. Animals are considered a person’s property.

However, Animal Care and Control Director Rebecca Katz said several dogs are reported stolen in San Francisco each year. Although the theft of small dogs is not new, Katz said, it is something owners need to be aware of.

Even the animal shelter is not immune to dog theft. In January 2009, Katz said, the shelter was broken into and a Chihuahua was taken. It was returned weeks later after pressure and extensive media coverage.

Possible motivations for canine abduction include resale, breeding or fighting. A pure-breed Pekingese like Lola can cost up to $500.

“Some dogs are considered more likely to be able to sell,” Katz said. “Pure breeds or cute, fluffy puppies. Smaller dogs are easier to conceal.”

Yet small dogs are not the only targets of dognapping. Last March, an Australian cattle dog was stolen from outside of a Safeway in the Castro neighborhood, according to Katz. The dog was tied up outside the store.

Then in April, a pit bull mix was taken from outside another grocery store in the Mission neighborhood. Most recently, an 8-pound Maltese was stolen from outside a Safeway in the Richmond neighborhood.

“We discourage people from tying their dogs up outside of places for that reason,” Katz said.

The Maltese case is known to have a happy ending. Last September, weeks after its disappearance, the dog’s owner received an anonymous tip about a similar dog appearing in a video posted on YouTube. The police investigated and learned that the woman’s boyfriend had “found” the puppy and given it to her as a present. He was arrested and charged with grand theft, and the dog was returned to its owner.

Katz said many owners can do simple things to prevent their dogs from being taken, such as installing microchips with updated information.

Chan’s Pekingese has a microchip and she’s already started doing extensive outreach to find her pet, including filing a police report and posting on Craigslist, Twitter and Facebook. She is hopeful she will be as lucky as some of the owners in the past year.

“I put fliers out for 20 miles,” she said. “I’m hoping that someone will see a flier posted or read about her and they will contact me.”


Lost dogs

Known dognappings in San Francisco:

January 2009: Chihuahua taken from city shelter
March 2010: Australian cattle dog taken from Market Street Safeway
April: Pit bull mix abducted in Mission neighborhood
September: Maltese swiped from Richmond Safeway
March 1: Pekingese taken from owner’s car in SoMa


Pooch protection

Dog lovers’ tips for how to guard your pet from abduction:

  • Don’t leave your dog outside when you’re not around.
  • Never leave your dog unattended. It takes only a moment for someone to untie him and lead him off.
  • Be aware, and make sure your neighbors are aware, of the problem of pet theft.
  • Never allow your dog to roam free in the neighborhood, for everyone’s sake.
  • Never leave your dog unattended in a car.
  • Always make sure he wears a collar with ID tags. You might want to consider implanting a microchip under his skin.
  • Keep recent photos of your dog, taken from different angles that clearly show coat type and coloring, close-ups of the face and any exceptional physical characteristics.
  • Keep all your proof-of-ownership papers (adoption, breeding contract, bill of sale) in one place to prove ownership.


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