After Patti Rhine’s French bulldog, Sailor, vanished near her home in Marathon, Florida, earlier this year, she worked with local authorities to find the suspects accused of stealing the pup and allegedly demanding $1,000 for its safe return.
“This was a very special case to us. You know, people say it was only a dog. No, this was a family member. This was their beloved family member,” Capt. Don Hiller of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office told "Nightline."
Dog thefts are up 40% from last year, and French bulldogs, nicknamed “Frenchies,” are the No. 1 target for thieves, ahead of both Labrador retrievers and Yorkshire terriers, according to the American Kennel Club.
The breed has exploded in popularity in recent years, with celebrities like Reese Witherspoon and Dwayne Johnson posing with their pets on social media. Some dogs, like Manny the Frenchie and Gus Gus and Marty, a pair of French bulldog brothers, have huge followings of their own.
But that cuteness doesn’t come cheap. French bulldogs can fetch up to $5,000. One rare pup once sold for $100,000. That price tag makes them highly valuable for resale — and also attractive to thieves.
Surveillance video shows the moment masked intruders stole a French bulldog named Milani from a California home in the middle of the day. A litter of French bulldog puppies were stolen from a home in Long Island in August. Another Frenchie was nearly snatched right out of a lobby in New York City.
The issue made national headlines last year, when two of Lady Gaga's frenchies were stolen from their dog walker at gunpoint.
“We believe most pets are stolen either for the thief's own family or to be resold,” AKC Reunite CEO Tom Sharp told "Nightline."
AKC Reunite is a non-profit that tracks lost and stolen pets using microchips. The organization has received more than 3,800 reports of missing pets from all 50 states in the past month alone.
Sharp recommends microchipping your pet and enrolling it in a 24/7 nationwide service. Experts also encourage owners to use GPS trackers on their pets. However, their weakness is that they can run out of batteries, Sharp said.
Pet detective Karin Tarqwyn says the No. 1 thing she tells people is “to know where your pet is at any one given moment, and to not have your pet out in public and you’re not there.”
In Patti Rhine’s case, soon after posting a photo of Sailor on Facebook offering a $500 reward, she got a phone call from an unknown person claiming to have her dog. When his story didn’t add up, she called the police.
Rhine also received what she describes as menacing text messages from the number, including a photo with Sailor looking “distraught," she said.
Eventually, Rhine said the people who had Sailor agreed to meet Rhine in Miami. Waiting for undercover officers to arrive, Rhine says one of the suspects gave her an ultimatum, so she took matters into her own hands to get Sailor back.
“As soon as he handed me my dog, there was at least eight or 10 police cars rushing in from all areas. They were arrested. It was like a television show,” Rhine said.
Police arrested two suspects, who were each charged with grand theft, dealing in stolen property and using a cell phone to facilitate the felonious use of a communication device, Hiller said. They have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
The owner and pup are now settling back into their old routines.
“I'm not in fear. I'm not going to let the rest of the world put me in fear. But you need to be aware of your surroundings and lock your doors and take care of your animals,” Rhine said.