When Jodie and Rob Conti left their four-month old German Shepherd puppy alone for part of a day in April, the pure-bred puppy was outside, in a fully-fenced yard in the middle of Summerland.
The couple were training their new puppy to be an outside dog and had left it with enough food and water to last the day as they had to attend to a doctor’s appointment with one of their children. It was the longest time they had left the dog out on its own, but had to do it out of necessity to make the appointment.
Unfortunately it was the last time they would see their puppy.
“We have a fully fenced yard with a latched gate, a six-foot-high wooden fence with no holes. There was no way she could get out on her own” said Jodi. “The circumstances we couldn’t control. We were out of town at an appointment for the better part of the day. But it’s a fully fenced yard and she had everything she needed.”
Upon returning to their home, the dog was gone. For months the family had researched the type of dog they wanted to join the young family with three children. Settling on the pure bred German Shepherd, Grace joined the family and despite only being with them for a short time, became a big part of their family. But things all changed that day when the dog disappeared without a trace.
“It’s really torn us up,” said Jodie. “The whole idea with Gracie was we are a newly blended family and this was supposed to be something that brought our family together and united us. This was supposed to be our family dog. All the kids loved and adored her. She became like one of our kids. I didn’t have dogs growing up. I never understood what people meant when they would say their dog is part of the family. But she was so special and she came at a very important time.”
For three days and nights immediately after the disappearance of their dog the family scoured the area, putting up signs and looking for any clue about where it went. They called local pounds, the SPCA, everywhere they could think to try and find it with out any luck. Jodi is convinced someone has their dog.
“Obviously I don’t know 100 per cent but my gut tells me she was stolen,” said Jodie. “It happens all the time. If you look on (classified web sites) there are lots of dogs that are for sale that have been stolen. They steal them for dog fighting or to breed them to sell and make money. Someone could have easily gotten $500 for her. Some people say she may have gotten eaten by animals but I really believe she is with someone.”
Their family isn’t alone in feeling that her dog was taken, or stolen. In fact a growing number of residents around the Okanagan say that dog theft is an issue that people aren’t aware of and aren’t talking about. According to the Facebook page called Stolen or Missing Dogs of the Okanagan, there have been 17 dogs stolen and 27 reported as missing in the past 10 months.
“That’s a lot of dogs and it’s been completely heartbreaking for the families,” said Lori Welbourne, who started a Facebook page when her dog went missing. “Normally a dog goes missing and it’s found either dead or alive. So many dogs are just vanishing without a trace now.”
Police say it’s a very difficult issue to investigate but, it’s an issue around the province. At times people will come across a dog and just keep it for themselves. Jodie said that could have happened, but she doesn’t understand how someone could keep a dog that doesn’t belong to them.
Welbourne says she has provided her list to RCMP and feels like more should be done to warn the public to be vigilant about watching their dogs and keeping them safe.
In a 13-year career that has seen him posted in the Fraser Canyon, Nanaimo, Kelowna and now West Kelowna, RCMP corporal Cory Lepine said dog theft has come up in each one of those areas. But he added he has never seen charges laid for theft of a dog in his own experience.
“It’s tough unless we have a suspect,” said Lepine. “All of the sudden your dog is missing and you think it’s been stolen or you’re not sure. Unless someone has a witness or a license plate or has a description of a vehicle, it’s really, really difficult (to investigate). We don’t know where the dog could go. It could be in the Lower Mainland. Dog thefts happen. It’s one of those things that is baffling. There are circumstances where maybe someone comes across a dog and they keep it to themselves.”
Whatever the circumstances, it’s certain that missing dogs is something that can deeply affect a family.
“It’s really stressful,” said Jodi. “I wish there was more that could be done for people who have lost or stolen dogs. I don’t know if there is enough awareness that this happens and people are getting away with it. The more I read there is more and more dogs being stolen. We just want to get her back. She means so much to our family.
This Saturday Welbourne is inviting people to join a grass roots approach to protecting pets at the Penticton Curling Club at 10:30 a.m. to noon. The talk, given by Brad Tanner, will be about motivating and organizing pet owners to create a community action plan to protect against pet theft.
Tanner lost his own dog to theft that had a tragic ending. He will share his story of the frustrations he experienced.