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Dog Thief, and Dogs, on the Loose in Sunnyslope

Updated on April 14, 2018

In recent weeks, the Phoenix village of Sunnyslope has been the scene of several dog thefts. Some reports claim the brazen suspect actually steals the dogs right from the yards of the victims--sometimes even after speaking with the owners before running off with their beloved animals. Understandably, pet owners in the neighborhood are on high alert, as some heartbroken residents have been robbed of their faithful four-legged companions.

Interestingly, one incident was captured on video. In it, a dog can be seen running loose in a darkened street as a vehicle pulls up beside it. A person exits the vehicle, follows the animal from the street to a nearby porch, where the suspect picks the dog up and takes it. The reporter narrates: "Instead of putting Pepper back on her front porch she then places the dog in her car and then just drives off like nothing!"

Upon hearing this, I was instantly taken back a bit. Not by what I heard, but rather, what wasn't addressed.

Even though a stray dog running to a nearby home does not necessarily mean it lives there, anyone wanting to help the dog would have knocked on the door that the dog ran to just in case. This was not done. However, if the suspect is apprehended, would the victim's case hold up strong in a court?

The report emphasized the close, loving relationships between the owners and their dogs, which is something I can relate to. I admittedly treat my dogs as my children. This is why I found it odd that in this report, there seemed to be clear, and justifiable, shock at the thought of a stranger taking someone's dog. Yet, no questions were raised regarding the fact that at least one of the stolen dogs had been taken while it was running around alone through a dark street.

If I were to leave my bicycle unchained in a dark parking lot, and it were to get stolen, I would no doubt be seen as under-protective, careless, and irresponsible to those who hear my story. Moreover, if I were to leave my 4 year old child in a dark street, where he or she can get run over my a car, attacked by coyote or javelina, or kidnapped, I should--no doubt--be expecting CPS to come knocking on my front door very soon.

I can't help to wonder how the reporter would have written such a story had it been a human child that had been kidnapped after he or she was found running in the dark streets alone? Would we want the baby returned to such parents? Of course not. There would be no composite sketch of the person who took the child--only a booking photo of the parent.

I have worked with dogs for many years, and am the proud owner and guardian of two wonderful dogs--both of which were rescued from almost certain death due to apathetic and cruel human decisions. One was rescued from an abandoned house, the other was found running through a busy north Phoenix street. Weeks after acquiring them, after all attempts to find their owners were thoroughly exhausted to no avail, the decision to keep them for my own was made.

Never would I walk either of them unleashed, much less allow them to venture out of the house alone. Anyone with any knowledge of wild predators of the southwest knows this is a bad idea. And not just for small dogs who can be killed by raptors or other animals, but larger dogs who can just as easily wind up meeting the bumper of a diesel truck.

How someone allows what they call their "baby" or "family member" to partake in such dangerous misadventure defies the most basic of logic.

For example, lets say that instead of being abducted, the dog seen in this video was run over by a car. Who would be at fault then? First of all there wouldn't be a story. Second, if it somehow was a story, the owner would certainly not be seen as a competent pet owner.

An Unfortunate Slopian Tradition

The village of Sunnyslope has had its share of problems for many years, but one such problem--animal neglect--has taken many hours of my life as an animal welfare advocate.

It is not unusual to see dogs running loose through its side streets, and at times--its main streets. I myself have chased down, and re-homed several stray dogs who were in obvious danger. However, I do this only after I try to find the animal's owners--hoping that the event was a fluke lapse of judgement. Unfortunately, more often than not, it's no fluke. Rather, it's a dysfunctional, and dangerous tradition saturated in a "They'll come back home when they're ready" mentality.

Of course, this mentality is not exclusive to Sunnyslope, but to anyone like myself, who is perpetually mandated by compassion to stop and help any animal in distress during their daily routine, the problem does--for whatever reason--seem to be much more prevalent in Phoenix's poorer neighborhoods.

The chihuahua that lives down the street from me, who wears no collar or tags, has escaped its home well over a dozen times in the past year. Every time it does, I always catch it and return it. So much so, that the owners have almost come to know me. When asked how the dog escapes, the answer was something to the effect of the dog using backyard items as steps to jump over the fence and roam the neighborhood--often showing an unhealthy lack of fear regarding moving vehicles. Why said items were never moved to prevent the animal escaping wasn't explained. I ended up doing the owner's job and purchased a collar and custom tag for the dog with its address on it, just in case someone else catches it during one of its random excursions.

One thing I loathe is a thief, but I must admit, after the 5th or 6th escape--I pondered the idea of finding the chihuahua a safer place to call home before I found it dead in the street. However, having experienced the heartbreak of losing beloved pets during my childhood, and realizing the amount sadness that it brings, I couldn't bring myself to do this for this particular dog seeing as long as the animal had at least part time shelter and food--not to mention siblings.

However, there are occasions when I believe thievery is justified.

Case in point: When I was young, my neighbors had a white rabbit, which was almost nothing but skin and bones, and left out in a snow covered backyard cage all the months of a Cleveland winter. After I witnessed the neighbor's children throwing it around like a football for their own entertainment--I made a decision to end its suffering. I dressed myself all in white to blend with the snow, took a cat carrier, hopped the neighbor's fence and took the animal. I kept the rabbit for a few weeks, and even paper trained it. Later, it was given to a trusted local rescue farm. To this day I regret I had to steal it, but I do not regret doing it.

Nor do I regret stealing my landlord's young German shepherd, who was forced to live in a dilapidated dog house in the corner of the yard which froze over in ice every winter and was saturated in mud and flies every summer. To keep these flies away, my landlord covered the dog in motor oil. Finally, noticing that the clothesline my landlord used as a collar and leash had embedded itself deep into the animal's neck, I again did something that I regret having to do. The vet had to surgically remove the cord from deep inside the animal's neck--which had swollen over it. The dog was successfully re-homed, and my landlord was never the wiser.

Am I making excuses for the Sunnyslope dog thief? No. Taking animals from their owners without any sign of neglect or abuse is as wrong as wrong gets. For that, a punishment is absolutely justified. However, at the same time, I cannot overlook careless behavior among animal owners. I can say--and many in the dog rescue community share this sentiment--that I, as an animal lover, would indeed take a small dog who I found running around in traffic like the dog seen in the video. Unlike the Sunnyslope dog thief, unless it was a recurring issue, and driven by the thought that there may be a child somewhere crying over its absence, I would first make all effort to return the dog to its rightful owner.

However, if there was a child crying over a dog that is consistently allowed to stray out on its own, that child's tears would be credited not to the person who takes the dog, or the javelina who eats it, or the driver who runs it over, but rather to the parent who made such a careless decision.

Even as misguided as her decisions seem, I don't believe the stolen pets have met or will meet with any physical harm or abuse in the hands of the suspect. I do, however, hope that that the person who took them will rethink her actions and do the right thing by returning the animals. Perhaps the owner in question, who sounds as if she has a genuine love for her pet, is not neglectful or incompetent at all, and simply had a lapse of judgement and let her dog out by accident.

There is a fine, but crystal clear line in the animal rescue business between stealing and saving. There is also the belief that we don't refer to our pets as members of our family if we treat them as anything less.

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