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COLUMBUS, Ohio – It’s one of the fastest growing and cruelest crimes in the United States.

An estimated 2 million pets are stolen each year.

The American Kennel Club reports dognapping is up 32% with only a fraction of the animals being reunited with their owners.

But now a new breed of special agents are helping change that trend by teaching people how to protect their pets; while also tracking down the thieves and rescuing stolen dogs.

PetFBI is an online non-profit group started in Columbus, Ohio in 1998 by retired French Professor Maressa Fanelli.

She was looking for a way to consolidate information for pet owners to help them find their pets faster.

The website and Facebook page, which have no connection to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have now expanded coverage nationwide and offer a plethora of information, but most importantly created a network of volunteers who scour the internet and databases looking for themissing animals.

“As of August 2015, almost 60,000 reports have been submitted to the Pet FBI database, making it the most comprehensive collection of information about lost and found pets online,” said Fanelli. And thanks to the dedicated PetFBI volunteers, around 60% of the animals in Ohio have been recovered.

“PetFBI is so brilliant in its grassroots efforts to reunite pets with their owners,” said spokesperson Kellie DiFrischia.

There are many reasons dogs are stolen. Some are taken and then re-sold on internet sites like Craigslist; for the quick cash.
Other dogs are used for dogfighting; either as a fighter, trainer or bait.

Animals that are not “fixed” are often sold to puppy mills to be used as breeders.

“It is a problem, you can’t be too cautious,” said DiFrischia, who also is director of Columbus Dog Connection, a non-profit animal rescue group that has co-authored animal rights legislation and provides low cost spaying and neutering across the state.

She says they have seen dogs snatched up from fenced in backyards and locked vehicles.

Any dog is at risk, because it’s a crime of opportunity.

However the top ten most targeted breeds are: Yorkshire Terrier, Pomeranian, Maltese, French Bulldog, Chihuahua, Boston Terrier, Labradore Retriever, Labra-Doodle, German Shepherd and Pit bull.

Kellie says, dogs might be stolen in Ohio, but end up several states away. Estranged family members and former romantic partners have even been caught stealing dogs then dumping them.

To protect your pet she recommends: spaying/neutering, microchipping and/or pet tattoos, and new pet GPS monitors and collars.

A pet GPS monitor helped Alfredo Meyers of Cleveland get his handsome mixed breed dog named Charlie back. Alfredo called the police immediately when Charlie disappeared from his front porch and police found him riding in a stranger’s car. “He had a GPS in his coat and he had his coat on and that’s how police found him,” said Alfredo.

Other precautions include:
– You should have a good quality photograph of your pet showing any distinctive characteristics he or she may have. In case your pet ever gets lost, this photograph could be invaluable.
– Never leave a pet unattended even for a minute.
– Never place a”free to good home” ad, that is an invitation for “bunchers” or people who collect animals for unscrupulous purposes.
– Remember pet theft is widespread. It is not confined to “bad” neighborhoods.

Captain Doug Hunter with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department also recommends keeping good documentation on your animals.

“We’re looking at multiple forms of identification,” said Hunter.

He says save veterinary bills, keep dog licenses up to date and be sure to have copies of ownership papers; whether you purchased the dog from a breeder, picked them up at a shelter or received them as gift.

He also suggests another quick and easy form of identification.

“While DNA may sound extreme, it’s another level of protection,” said Cpt. Hunter, “Swab the dogs cheek with a q-tip and place in an envelope and you have a DNA sample of your dog.”

DNA tests were recently used to identify two of four Cane Corso puppies stolen from a Doylestown man during a home invasion on Christmas 2014 while they were still weening. More than 7 months later police recovered the puppies from a home in Akron. DNA tests confirmed the dogs identity and they were reunited with their rightful owner.

To learn more about the PetFBI, become a volunteer or donate CLICK HERE.