Dognapping on the Rise: How to Keep Your Pets Safe

Experts say pet owners are unknowingly putting their dogs at risk.

Dec. 22, 2009— -- A quick trip inside the post office to mail a package. A dash into the coffee shop for a latte.

Pet owners often don't think twice about leaving their dogs outside while they run a quick errand, but experts say pet thefts are a rising trend and owners need to take more precautions.

"The American Kennel Club has been tracking pet thefts for over two years," Lisa Peterson, director of communications for the American Kennel Club, told "Good Morning America."

"We have seen a dramatic increase in this type of crime. In fact, the FBI National Crime Information Center tracks stolen pets and pet owners don't know that if their dog is stolen and has a microchip that they can file a police report to help them get their pet back."

The number of U.S. pet thefts has risen 30 percent in the past year alone, Peterson said.

"Good Morning America" safety and security expert Bill Stanton said that it's not hard to remove a dog from a car parked with the window open or to untie the animal from outside a cafe.

Gretchen Dirks let Stanton prove how easy it is to steal a dog by leaving her standard poodle Brando in a Colorado store parking lot and walking away.

Within minutes, Stanton was prowling around her car, telling passersby he was thinking of taking the dog and no one batted an eye.

He even asked women walking by if Brando was their dog, telling them, "It's a beautiful dog. It's just ripe for the taking. I'm thinking about taking him."

The women simply continued on their way and Stanton made off with Brando minutes later.

"I feel really bad," one of the women, Christy Loudon, told "Good Morning America.

"If it was a real situation, the dog would be gone, obviously. You need to pay more attention to things around you."

Experts say many owners believe their dogs will be safe for the few minutes they are out of sight, but that's all it takes for a thief to move in.

"I think pet owners need to be informed and aware that when they do tie their dog up outside a coffee shop or if they leave their dog in the car to run a few errands that they are making their pet a potential target for crime," the Kennel Club's Peterson said. "And that is when a number of these pet thefts do occur."

How to Keep Your Pets Safe

Here are a few tips to keep your pets safe:

Don't leave your dog unattended. If you need to run an errand, leave the dog at home or make sure someone you know is keeping an eye on the dog while you are gone.

Don't leave your dog unattended out in the backyard. Dognappers will notice if a pet is outside on his own and take advantage of that.

Have your pet outfitted with a microchip. The chip is inserted between the dog's shoulder blades and can hold the owner's personal information, including address and phone number. If a stolen dog is found, the chip can help authorities determine the owner. Most vets and shelters have equipment to scan a dog for microchips.

Keep your dog on a leash. Off-leash dogs are more likely to wander off and into the hands of a thief.

Consider the AKC's Lost Pet Alert if your pet is stolen or missing. The service works like an Amber Alert for pets and sends out an e-mail notification to veterinarians, shelters and animal control agencies within a 50-mile radius asking them to be on the lookout.

"Many people look at their dogs as priceless or their children," Stanton said. "Treat them as such."