Dog thefts are up by nearly 50 percent so far this year as compared to the same period a year ago, the American Kennel Club says, warning the actual number could indeed be much higher.
Based on reports in the media and information from clients who had enrolled their pets in the AKC's recovery service, the AKC says 224 pet dogs were stolen in the first seven months of this year, up from 150 in the same period in 2010.
"I'm certain the number is much higher, because our figures only track dogs that are registered in our pet recovery service, whose owners report them stolen," AKC spokeswoman Lisa Peterson told AFP.
According to the American Pet Products Association, some 46 million Americans own a total of more than 78 million dogs.
Dogs are an easy target for pet thieves because they are "out and about," said Peterson.
"They are stolen out of parked cars while people are running errands and even snatched when they're with their owner in the park," she said.
"We've even seen a new trend of dogs being stolen from shelters and adoption events for the first time this year," she said, citing the story of a man who stole a dog from a shelter after his application to adopt the pet was denied.
Some stolen pets are held for ransom, some are resold on the Internet and others are taken because thieves don't want to "pay a purchase price or adoption fee," the AKC says.
Peterson noted that one woman paid $10,000 to get her dog back.
Other organizations, such as stolenpets.com and petfinder.com, say up to 2 million animals are stolen each year in the United States, and only 10 percent of those are returned to their owners.
Petfinder, a website owned by Discovery Communications that connects homeless pets with potential owners, says stolen pets are used in satanic rituals, as bait in dog fights or killed for their fur or meat, among other gruesome fates.
But Peterson urged pet owners not to be alarmed by what she called "myths" about what happens to stolen animals.
"I've seen that two million figure floating around, but where they got it, I don't know because there's no national tracking of pet theft in the United States," she said.
"And the stories about what happens to stolen pets can be very scary, but unless there is supporting data, they should be treated as myths," she said.