A Casper citizens’ group says an underground ring of thieves is stealing dogs and selling them for profit, with 170 canines possibly taken from the area.
But there’s some room for doubt because Wyoming Missing Canines’ numbers don’t match official tallies. Casper Police Department has reports of only six missing dogs since January and Metro Animal Control counts 41 animals that have been reported lost or reported found by people who are not their owners. Additionally, the executive director of an animal medical nonprofit said he doubts a theft ring is operating in Casper.
Yet the president of the board of the Casper Humane Society said the number of missing dogs that have not been returned to their owners is up.
Wednesday morning, organizers with Wyoming Missing Canines held a media conference at City Hall, hoping to bring attention to the alleged dognappings. Mayor Kenyne Schlager, Police Chief Chris Walsh and others from the city attended, saying they wanted to promote responsible dog ownership.
“It’s never a bad thing to have responsible pet ownership,” City Manager John Patterson said.
Valerie Kulhavy lost her yellow lab, Daisy, in June. She was attending an out-of-state wedding and left Daisy with friends. Daisy disappeared without a trace on Cole Creek Road, Kulhavy said.
Kulhavy hit social media in attempts to find Daisy and discovered there were missing dogs in Casper and Natrona County. She helped organize Wyoming Missing Canines and is convinced one sick puppy is taking dogs.
From June 1 to Oct. 1, there were 227 dogs called in to the Casper Human Society as missing. Fifty-seven have been found, leaving open the possibility that the others were stolen, Kulhavy said.
Sally Reinhart, board president of the Casper Humane Society, believes the number of missing dogs is on the rise. But she didn’t have comparable numbers from the same time period last year because missing reports are thrown out after six months.
“We probably can’t prove anything but we’ve had more missing dog reports in this time period than we’ve ever had,” she said. “We can’t say they’ve all been stolen because we don’t [know] what happened to them.”
Normally, dogs find their way back home in a few days or they get picked up by people who read their tags and find the owners. But this year “some of the people are still looking for them and it’s been months,” she said.
Kulhavy said social media posts have described a suspicious vehicle — an older, blue Toyota 4Runner — and the actions of some suspicious people, including two people who eyed a yellow lab with one saying, “I found one,” in reference to the dog.
“We’ve found indications that there is a theft ring,” she said, adding that on some days, no dogs go missing and on other days, eight dogs are reported missing.
Kulhavy said her group has conducted exhaustive tracking, creating pages of spreadsheets to document the missing dogs.
The dognappers’ preferred breeds are pugs and yellow labs, Kulhavy claims.
Locations of theft have been mostly in downtown Casper, east of Beverly Street, she added.
The dognappers’ motive is money, according to Kulhavy. They can fetch big money by selling the dogs on Craigslist.com or to pet stores that don’t suspect theft. The dogs could be resold to someone who organizes dog fights, she said.
Preston Pilant is executive director of the Pet Ring Foundation, which raises money for veterinary care for owners who can’t afford it. Pilant doesn’t believe the claims of Wyoming Missing Canines. While Pilant believes dogs have been snatched since the beginnings of their domestication, he doubts there is a theft ring operating in Casper.
“I truly believe nine out of 10 dogs that go missing are runaways,” he said. “I don’t think it is a big ring of dognappers.”
Pilant helps with Metro’s spay and neuter clinics and said he saw a pug that had previously been described as stolen on Wyoming Missing Canines’ Facebook page.
“There were two basset hounds that the guy swore up and down that someone had cut his lock,” Pilant said. “They sat at Metro for three days before the owner claimed them.”
Pilant advised owners of missing dogs to check Metro in person. There’s a chance that Metro staff accidentally mistyped into their computer system a chocolate lab as a female instead of male. When you call, they may say that your dog isn’t at the shelter when it actually is.
“After seven days, guess what? That dog goes up for adoption,” he said.
On the alert
Casper Police Capt. Mark Trimble said owners of missing dogs can notify the Police Department by calling dispatch or report a missing pet online. Owners need to check with Metro, the Human Society and neighbors say.
Contacting Metro is more effective than merely posting a picture on Facebook, Mayor Schlager said.
“We want to make sure the Police Department is not inundated with reports,” she said.
If you see a car circling your street, take notice. Don’t let anyone follow you from the pet store, Kulhavy said.
“Be cautious when you go to the dog park that you are not followed home,” she said.
Alleged dognappers have left gates open to make it look like the owners were negligent, even once tampering with a gate lock, Kulhavy said.
“The main issue is to keep your dogs in because if they’re inside, you can be sure they’re not taken,” she said.
Walsh, the police chief, encouraged owners to go to Metro and have their dogs implanted with microchips with an owner’s identity and contact information. Shelters have equipment to find the microchips and read the information.
Metro manager Tory Cutrell said microchip services are offered for $20.