Dognapping Is A Real Risk For San Francisco's Pet Owners

It happened to Annelise Wunderlich when her dog Ceba was tied up in front of Rainbow Grocery on Folsom Street.

Friendly and calm, Ceba seemed comfortable being left in front of a store for a few minutes at a time. But on this day, the checkout line was long, so Wunderlich left her husband to handle the groceries and went outside to check on Ceba.

All she found was his leash. Ceba was gone.

Ceba. | Photo: Annelise Wunderlich 

Well-intentioned dog owners who briefly leave their dogs tied up outside local businesses—or in their cars—may not realize that dog theft is a longstanding problem in San Francisco.

“We’ve had numerous reports over the years,” says San Francisco Animal Care and Control (ACC) spokesperson Deb Campbell. ACC Captain Denise Bongiovanni confirmed that dog thefts happen fairly regularly in the city—both for dogs tied up outside and those left in cars. 

But these incidents only occasionally make the news.

For example, in September, a dachshund named Goose was stolen from the Whole Foods on 4th and Harrison, and back in March, Catfish, a Chihuahua mix, was stolen from in front of the Walgreens on Divisadero. When Ceba was taken a few years ago, Wunderlich told us that she was able to get two local media outlets to cover the story. 

A dog waits for his human to return. | Photo: Shoshi Parks/Hoodline

In addition to contacting local media sources, ACC provides a checklist of things to do if a dog is stolen, including posting flyers, notifying the police, and taking to social media.

Facebook groups like “Lost and Missing Dogs San Francisco” and “Dog Connect SF Bay Area” have hundreds of members, and have successfully reunited pets with their owners in the past. 

Wunderlich was able to get Ceba back after putting up a second flyer offering a $500 reward to his captors, on the advice of a police officer. The officer told her "that people typically only have success if they offer a specific cash amount, starting with at least $500,” she recalls. 

Within 24 hours of posting the new flyers, the thief made contact. The following day, Ceba was back home—but many dogs like him never return. 

Photo: Duane Storey/Flickr

Guardians should be concerned with more than the risk of theft when leaving their dog alone.  “A dog that is tied out is going to show stress in one way or another,” says certified dog trainer/walker Eva Puyana, the owner/operator of Ruff Riders K-9 Adventures.

Some dogs may even become aggressive, out of fear towards a stranger that tries to pet them. When a dog feels threatened, it has two choices: fight or flight, says Captain Bongiovanni. “When you have it tied out, you’ve removed one choice. The dog is more likely to engage in a fight, because it can’t flee.”

Puyana describes one incident in which a dog tied outside a business bit a passerby. “It was her second bite incident [recorded by ACC], and her parents ultimately had [to have] her put down.”  

Photo: green kozi/Flickr

Leaving dogs tied up outside is also illegal, says Captain Bongiovanni. A San Francisco health ordinance requires that dog leashes must be held in the hand of a human, except in designated off-leash areas.

If an officer sees a dog left tied outside, the owner can be cited. “It’s a good lesson to learn, that your dog is in harm’s way,” Campbell explains.

Photo: green kozi/Flickr

In the end, dog owners should “never take a chance,” advises Campbell. “You never know what’s going to happen if you leave your dog tied out.”

Since Ceba’s return, Wunderlich regularly shares her story with well-meaning dog owners who are tempted to leave their dog outside while darting into a store.

“Think cautiously, especially now when there is so much income disparity and poverty in San Francisco," she says. "[Stealing a dog may be a] way for someone to raise money quickly. It’s not worth it.”

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