An unusual number of missing dogs in the South Shore area have residents fearing their dogs are being stolen and used in dog-fighting rings.
While Hillsborough Animals Services spokeswoman Marti Ryan said there’s no evidence that pets that have gone missing in the Wimauma area were stolen to be used for dog fighting, residents believe the disappearances are suspicious and have asked the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office to investigate.
The disappearances over the past nine months prompted residents to form the group, Save Our Pets Tampa Bay and hold meetings at the South Shore Regional Library to discuss the problem.
“We sent one of our best animal control officers, who is an expert in dog fighting, to one of the meetings,” said Ryan. “And that officer hasn’t been able to come up with any solid evidence that these dogs were stolen for dog fighting.
Nevertheless, she cautioned residents to make sure their dogs are registered, confined in a home or fenced area and are microchipped.
While residents believe the problem is widespread, Ryan noted that only a handful of pet owners have reported their dogs stolen to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
"Animal Services investigates animal abuse cases but it’s the sheriff’s office that has to investigate thefts,” she said. “Most of these dog owners never reported their dogs stolen.”
Initial reports by residents claimed that as many as 60 dogs in the South Shore area had gone missing. But only five residents have made reports to the sheriff’s office, said Ryan.
“It’s not unusual for five pets to go missing in a rural area where pets aren’t always confined and have collars with tags,” she said.
But Wimauma resident Frances Poirrier said she became suspicious after her German shepherd, Stripes, disappeared from her backyard in January, followed by the disappearance of neighbor Mary Jane Weaver’s dog, Zeke, five months later.
Then, on May 23, Poirrier’s second dog, Bodie, turned up missing.
Poirrier created the group, Save Our Pets Tampa Bay, and held two meetings in August at the South Shore Regional Library where
residents speculated that the dogs had been the victims of dog-fighting rings. Residents fear the dogs are being baited and lured away from their homes.
“This action group has been created to stop the mauling and murder of our beloved pets,” Poirrier said.
Residents note that all the missing dogs are medium to large breeds, suitable for dog fighting.
Poirrier also has created a Facebook page and is urging residents to post photos of lost pets.
Maria LePochat is among those who have posted a photo of her pet.
“Lily is a 4-year-old shepherd mix that we adopted from the Humane Society of Tampa Bay on July 25, 2007,” said LePochat. “She was 2 months old at the time and my five kids fell in love with her at first
sight. Ever since then, she’s been their constant companion. Wherever the kids were, that’s where you’d find Lily. On July 20, 2011, Lily was taken from my in-laws’ yard while we were on vacation. Our family is just devastated, especially the kids.”
Marci Cole Hartley said her two dogs, Xena and Sadie, have been missing since July 28. And Jessica Appoloney Urbanek said her dog, Teaspon, has been missing since April. Both are offering rewards for the safe return of their dogs.
“We have eye-witness accounts of two men pulling up in a vehicle with stolen tags and trying to lure our pets off of our property,” Poirrier said. “The missing dogs are primarily bull dogs and we have good reason to believe they are being stolen to be used in illegal dog-fighting operations.”
Poirrier is urging residents to report their missing dogs to the sheriff’s office under case number 378158 so the sheriff’s office can launch a comprehensive investigation.
“With our combined efforts and cooperation, we will get faster and much more effective results,” she said.