EUCLID, Ohio (WJW) – Carjackers and bank robbers make headlines, but the FOX 8 I-Team has found more and more thieves are stealing dogs.

It’s a hidden danger to your pets.

The I-Team also found the crooks face very little punishment when they get caught, but we’re sparking action to get justice.

Recently, we’ve uncovered cases of dogs reported stolen in Euclid, Parma, Russell Township and more.

A nationally known non-profit group says the number of cases has been exploding across the country.

The American Kennel Club Reunite has found dog thefts up by a third.

Tom Sharp spoke for the AKC Reunite, saying, “Pets reported stolen to us are up 30% year over year.”

When we asked why, he responded, “It’s a great question. We don’t necessarily have all the answers.”        

Sharp says some thieves steal dogs for themselves. Other steal dogs and sell them.

The crimes have been happening more since the prices of dogs went up during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“With the pandemic, people were staying at home and they wanted a new pet, and it became very difficult to get a pet,” Sharp said.

In Euclid, we found Michelle Roberts-Ragland battling cancer and desperately searching for her dog, Mimi. She reported Mimi stolen and says she then got a strange text message.

“I got a strange text from someone who said, ‘How does it feel to lose your dog?'” she said. “She was my heart, you know? I miss her little face.”

In Geauga County, Pascal Mahvi suspected a delivery driver stole his dog, Murphy. He offered a reward, went to police, and did his own investigating too. Eventually, someone dropped Murphy off to police.

“23 days of torture. It was not fun. 23 days,” Mahvi said.

Parma Police, weeks ago, arrested two people for stealing a neighbor’s dog. One suspect told the I-Team she felt the dog was being abused.

Now, the two women are facing misdemeanor charges for taking the dog. The owner is also facing a charge of abuse of animals. All three people are pleading not guilty and their cases are moving through court.

But, consider what the I-Team found when we asked about getting justice if someone gets convicted for stealing your pet dog. Don’t expect much.

Ohio law considers that a low-level crime. A misdemeanor carrying possible punishment with very little jail time and a fine.

So, we contacted state lawmakers. Now, two are promising to take action. It would make stealing your dog a more serious felony crime.

“We are now working with our legislative service commission to draft up a bill,” State Representative Casey Weinstein said.

He points out that many other states treat stealing dogs more seriously, so it’s time for Ohio to do that.

“This is one of those laws that needs updating. It doesn’t pass the smell test. We should be doing everything we can to deter stealing, or pet-napping, or theft or whatever,” Weinstein added.

“We haven’t looked at this in the past,” State Senator Kenny Yuko said.

Yuko told us that he will also work for tougher penalties for stealing dogs.

“And maybe if we do that, people think about the consequences. It might deter the thoughts of someone taking someone’s dog,” he said.

Folks we met who have reported dogs stolen say a new Ohio law can’t come soon enough, even if it’s too late for what happened to them.