Pet Ransom Crooks Prey on Dog, Cat Owners

By Marc Santia
|  Wednesday, Feb 6, 2013  |  Updated 9:51 AM EDT
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Experts say crooks are preying on pet owners desperate to get their furry friends back. Marc Santia reports.

NBC 4 New York

Experts say crooks are preying on pet owners desperate to get their furry friends back. Marc Santia reports.

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One evening last September, David Maidman took his beloved miniature Labradoodle, Teddy, for a walk on the Upper East Side, just like he did every night. He secured Teddy's leash outside a Starbucks and went inside to get a coffee. When he returned, Teddy was gone.

Heartbroken, David and his wife, Nancy, put up signs, spoke with police and posted a listing on Craigslist offering a hefty reward for their lost pup.

Soon, they were contacted by phone.

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"This man said 'I have Teddy. How much are you offering?'" Nancy Maidman told NBC 4 New York. "I gave him the amount and he said 'Well I want $10,000.' I said 'No' and he said 'Well then you’ll never see your b*** again' and he hung up."

Experts say crooks are preying on pet owners desperate to get their furry friends back. In some cases, the thieves actually steal the pets and wait for owners to post reward offers. In other cases, scam artists see ads for lost pets and contact owners, pretending they have the animals. Some even create fake photos to make owners believe they have their pets.

Cathy Sheehan, whose cat, BeeBop, went missing during her move from Brooklyn to Maine, said some callers even took photos of her cat from her Facebook profile and edited them to make it seem like the cat was in their possession.

“It’s emotionally exhausting and draining,” said Sheehan.

Sheehan said once she offered a  reward, she started getting calls from people claiming they found BeeBop.

“'We have your cat but we need to see the money first. We need to see how you’re paying,'” the callers would say, according to Sheehan.

Bonnie Folz, who leads a volunteer group that helps to look for lost and stolen pets, says she hears many stories like these. She says pet ransom crimes are becoming a growing problem.

“It’s sad. It’s really sad because you’re talking about somebody’s pet, somebody’s family member,” said Folz.

And Lisa Peterson, a spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club, says the organization has seen the same.

“We’ve seen an increasing trend each year for the number of pets stolen,” said Peterson. “There’s two victims here. There’s certainly the owner -- their beloved family member has been stolen from them -- but also the dog is a victim as well."

Peterson said pet owners can take one simple step to increase their pet security -- get their pets microchipped.

Meanwhile, the Maidmans still hope Teddy will be returned.

“I’m always looking," said Nancy Maidman, "figuring well maybe one of these days I’ll just see somebody with him."

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