The head of an animal rights group is warning Iowans about an increase in the number of dogs being stolen from yards and farmsteads. Veterinarian Elliot Katz, president of the group In Defense of Animals, says there’s an “epidemic” of missing dogs, especially in south-central Iowa. Dr. Katz says there was a similar spike in dog thefts in the region some 15 years ago.

“Particularly the Midwest because there’s a tendency for people to leave their dogs out in larger yards or to actually run loose,” Katz says. “Bunchers, they were called, would pick them up, go into neighborhoods with some vans and pick up dogs and leave the community.” From there, he fears papers are falsified and the snatched canines are being sold at auctions for up to 300-dollars per dog.

“What the animals go through in research labs is very torturous and very painful, suffering and particularly for dogs who’ve been treated extremely humanely,” Katz says. “They’re members of the family, all of the sudden to be brutalized is an extremely sad situation.” He says nearly four-dozen dogs are reported missing in four south-central Iowa counties.

The disappearances began in February and escalated during March and April. While at least 46 dogs are reported missing in the area, 30 of them are gone from Madison County alone. Of those, 17 are labs or lab mixes, so they’re medium to large dogs. Katz, who’s based in California, says Iowans should keep closer tabs on their dogs, put a collar on them with tags, and absolutely have them microchipped for easy identification.

“Contact your local media and your local animal control and see if people have been reporting (thefts),” Katz says. “Oftentimes, it doesn’t reach public attention until quite a few have been stolen so keep an eye out in your community.”

 A $1,500 reward is being offered for information that leads to the missing dogs being found and retrieved. To report tips, call your local law enforcement office. To contribute to the reward fund, contact In Defense of Animals at 415- 448-0043.