Dognappings have risen 49 percent in the U.S. in 2011, according to data gathered by the American Kennel Club.
"We believe the increase is due to economic times," Lisa Peterson, a spokesperson for the nonprofit group, which has been tracking pet theft for several years, tells Weekend Edition Saturday guest host Jacki Lyden.
"You have people who want pets ... but can't afford to purchase them or pay the adoption fees, so we find that they're just taking them for themselves or to give them as gifts," she says. "But then on the other hand, you have the criminal element that steals dogs and tries to sell them to unsuspecting buyers."
Peterson says the top two ways dogs are being stolen are during home invasions and out of parked cars. She cites a case in Florida where criminals took a 55-inch television set and also Boo-Boo, the Yorkshire terrier, with all of his belongings.
Tying up a dog in front of a store also makes it vulnerable for theft.
Dog theft can not only be traumatic for the owner, she says, but also for the dog.
"Dogs thrive on routine," Peterson says. "They're valued family members, so there's actually two victims to the crimes here: There's the owner, who's missing their lovable pet, and also the poor dog, [which] is suffering perhaps a little anxiety, not knowing what's going on."
Peterson says the best step dog owners can take to protect their pets, especially with recovery, is to have a microchip implanted.
There are also common-sense, close-to-home measures like not letting your dog off its leash or leaving it unattended in your yard.
In addition, Peterson says, dog owners should be cautious with information they tell strangers.
"We saw a man in Tulsa, Okla., who was approached by a man in a park, [who asked] about his adorable pit bull puppy," she says. "Then apparently the criminal followed him home and the next morning broke into the house, tied up the family at gunpoint and stole the puppy."