All Valerie Kulhavy knows for sure is that a large number of dogs are missing in Casper, and she’s determined to find out why.
She and her new group, Wyoming Missing Canines, believe there are two likely scenarios that involve dog theft: people may be selling stolen animals, or they may be using them as bait to train animals used in dog fights.
We’re not asking police to find our dogs. Our focus is on preventing this from happening.
While there is no direct evidence of either activity occurring, and the Casper Police Department denies there is a stolen dog problem in the city, Kulhavy said there are too many common experiences that involve suspicious activity pointing to dognapping.
“We’ve had several people report that they’ve come upon people in alleys who were either trying to take dogs or were breaking down fences in an attempt to do so,” she noted. “When they were discovered these people jumped back into their vehicles and took off.”
On its Facebook page, the police department posted this notice on Oct. 31: “[We have] had only one dog theft report in recent days that is currently unsolved. Based on the lack of any other official theft reports, there appears to be no validity to the rumors of a rash of dog thefts in the Casper area.”
But Kulhavy and several Facebook commenters said there is an obvious reason for the lack of dog theft reports: owners didn’t actually see the theft occur, so the dogs are simply considered missing. The police don’t take reports of missing dogs.
“We’re not asking police to find our dogs,” Kulhavy stressed. “Our focus is on preventing this from happening.”
For several reasons, it’s difficult to pinpoint precisely how many dogs are missing in the Casper area. While a televised report in early October said as many as 96 dogs went missing in August and September, there is no single source that tracks the number. While Metro Animal Control, the Casper Humane Society and several other animal-related organizations individually keep reports filed by owners, there is duplication, and they don’t always learn whether or not a missing dog has been found.
Anna Letz, shelter manager at the Casper Humane Society, said several people have reported suspicious activity near their homes and in alleys. Kulhavy said it amounts to stalking, with people casing places to learn when owners are gone and dogs can be more easily taken.
In recent weeks fewer people have been reporting that their animals were found and returned to them, said Letz, who added that “it seems like a lot of purebreds are missing – Labs and smaller breeds, usually younger dogs.”
On the other hand, the shelter manager noted, “A lot of fences went down in the big snowstorm a few weeks ago,” and that could account for some dogs getting out of their yards.
“There’s not a lot I can say, because we just don’t know what’s really happening,” Letz concluded.
A yellow Labrador, Daisy, owned by Kulhavy’s son, Travis, turned up missing on June 23, which has left her family heartbroken. “She just disappeared from the face of the earth,” she related. While she does not expect to get Daisy back, Kulhavy said she still checks in with Metro and the Humane Society at least twice a week in person to see if anyone might have found her.
Wyoming Missing Canines meets every Monday at 7 p.m. at the Parkway Plaza, in a room donated by Parkway owner Pat Sweeney. The dozen or so members share reports of suspicious activities, and plan ways to inform the public about what is happening so they can better protect their dogs.
Kulhavy speculated that people trying to make a quick profit by stealing dogs can sell animals for between $500 and $600 that would normally go for $1,000 from a breeder. The process is known as “flipping,” and while the animals don’t come with paperwork that proves their lineage, the practice is known to occur in many cities throughout the country.
Some members of the group think it is more likely that people involved in dog fighting are taking animals that are being used to train killers.
“I know a lot of people think we’re just a bunch of crazy dog lovers,” Kulhavy said. “But something is going on, and everybody here (at the Monday meeting) is determined to catch these creeps. Until we do, they’ll just keep on doing it, because there’s no reason for them to stop. No one else is looking for them. … The police don’t have the time or money to go looking for missing dogs.”
On the police department’s Facebook page, one commenter said her boss’ son was picking chokecherries in his back yard by the alley, and he looked through the branches and saw an older model blue Toyota 4-runner that was filled with dogs. A man and woman got out of the vehicle and approached the yard. The woman reportedly said, “That’s one” when she spotted a yellow Lab in the yard, but seeing the owner scared the couple away.
In another incident that was actually assigned a police case number, a woman wrote on Facebook, “Yesterday afternoon someone kicked in the back of my fence and tried to take my dog. A lady a few doors down yelled and the man ran off, leaving my dog at large.”
Fortunately the dog was brought to the Casper Humane Society by a woman who found her walking aimlessly.
“The guy who tried to take her was driving a dark blue 4-runner with what looked to be Colorado plates. He was wearing a Denver Broncos jacket and black hat,” the owner noted. “This information was given to the police department. I am blessed to be one of the lucky few who had their beloved pet returned.”
Kulhavy encouraged people to report suspicious activity that may be related to attempts to steal dogs by detailing the incidents on the group’s Facebook page.
Wyoming Missing Canines members are also passing out flyers in neighborhoods and at stores that include tips on how to keep dogs safe. They include:
– Stay with your pet at all times when they are outside, even in a fenced yard.
– Be observant about vehicles circling the block, checking to see what animals you have. Be especially vigilant about vehicles in alleys or at night. Most of these will be SUVs or pickups with cargo covers or toppers. Try to get a license plate number and vehicle description.
– Be observant about vehicles that may follow you home from the dog park, pet stores or vet.
– Check daily for cuts in the chain link or loose boards indicating you are being set up for a theft.
– Ask your neighbors to keep an eye on your house while you are away.
– Padlock your gates; it may slow a thief down long enough to prevent the theft.
– Micro-chip your animals. The thieves are discarding collars and tags, and the chip may eventually lead your animal back to you if the animal is found and the chip is checked.
– If it feels wrong, it probably is. If you believe you are being stalked, call the police.