Jamie Katz has seen a lot in her seven years as a pet detective.
She had one case of a man who was walking his dog at 5 a.m. when “a car pulled up and just, like, four to five people got out and started beating the hell out of him.” The assailants kicked the dog during the attack, prompting it to run away.
In another case, a client had their French Bulldog stolen from its crate in their home, along with $10,000 in cash.
But even she was surprised by the dramatic theft of Lady Gaga’s two French Bulldogs, who were pinched off a Los Angeles street on Wednesday night by unidentified assailants who shot the pop star’s dog walker. The dogs were returned unharmed late Friday, but the suspects remain at large.
Of the 700 lost pet cases Katz has taken on since she started her agency in Florida in late 2015, “I’ve only had 4 percent that have actually been stolen,” Katz said.
More often than not, Katz is dealing with frantic owners who think their pets have been stolen—when they actually just ran off or a concerned passerby took them in.
Given the added violence of the Lady Gaga shooting, “Now, it’s more of a missing person case,” that the police are best equipped to deal with, the licensed P.I. told The Daily Beast.
Shocking video captured a white car pulling up beside the dog walker, Ryan Fischer, and multiple robbers surrounding him late on Wednesday night. When he refused to give up the pups, he was shot. “Help me! I’m bleeding out. They shot me in my [inaudible] heart. They stole two dogs. Oh my god. Please help me,” Fischer can be heard yelling.
Two dogs, Koji and Gustav, were taken while Fischer managed to hold on to a third, Asia. Fischer remained in the hospital in critical condition on Friday, but his family said in a statement to Rolling Stone that he was likely to make a full recovery.
“Of course, we also want to thank Lady Gaga who has shown nothing but non-stop love and concern for Ryan and our family right from the outset. Ryan loves Gustavo and Koji as much as Lady Gaga does; so we join in her plea for their safe return,” the statement said.
Though the crime was vicious, the motive is likely not complicated.
“People steal dogs for two main reasons, both coming from greed: They want the dog, or they want to sell the dog,” said Brandi Hunter, vice president of public relations for the American Kennel Club.
Katz has sometimes seen a third reason: A “retaliation type situation,” where an animal was stolen because of “something that person did.”
French Bulldogs, which weigh less than 28 pounds, can cost would-be owners thousands. They are the fourth most-popular breed of 197 dog breeds listed on the American Kennel Club’s website.
“Popular breeds that are smaller in stature are the most common targets—Frenchies, Yorkies, Shih Tzus,” Hunter said.
Lady Gaga’s father, Joe Germanotta, told CNN on Friday that they were “hoping for an act of kindness so we can get the dogs back.” And the singer offered a $500,000 reward, “no question asked,” for the return of her beloved pets.
But, unlike human hostages, stolen dogs are rarely ransomed back to their original owners.
“Ransom is not a common situation when it comes to dog theft,” said Hunter. “The thief is opting to sell. There’s not much of a desire to give you the dog back. We don’t see a lot of cases like Lady Gaga’s.”
That is not to say canine blackmail money is unheard of. In November, an alleged thief in Gainesville, Florida stole a pitbull and attempted to hold it for $25,000 ransom, though he was caught before any money was exchanged.
Other dramatic dognappings have also hit the headlines in recent months. In December, a New York City couple’s 7-year-old dachshund Luca was stolen outside a grocery store and sold to new owners for somewhere between $100 and $500 but was returned after tipsters told police about a neighborhood man hawking a pooch on the cheap. In January, two alleged Las Vegas dognappers posed as buyers for three puppies worth $4,000 each, before holding the owner up at gunpoint and absconding with the English bulldogs.
If Katz were assigned to solve Lady Gaga’s case—hypothetically speaking—she said the first thing she would do is speak with the dog owner, as well as the police running the case.
She’d want to know “what is going on currently” that might not be known publicly.
“What I do is I go over the case and I go through, you know, the ‘who, what, when, where, how’ questions to make sense of the situation and see what’s going on,” Katz said.
Next, she said she’d figure out what direction police were going in. Did they think that it was a targeted attack? Then she would “go the opposite way of them” and try to look into whether it was a random attack. “So that way, we would have a whole case, meaning every side is looked into and you don’t have any holes,” Katz said, while emphasizing that she has no involvement in the Lady Gaga case.
The crime of dognapping has a long history beyond Lady Gaga similar to the old crime of robbing graves to supply illicit cadavers to scientists. Dognappers’ primary targets for fencing stolen dogs were once medical researchers. In 1966, however, the Animal Welfare Act severely limited the procurement of, and experiments on, canines. A longtime dog thief testified before Congress about his profession as part of the proceedings. The shift led thieves to sell more often to breeders.
Back in 1846, dognappers targeted a spaniel named Flush owned by the sister of poet Elizabeth Barrett while the two were shopping together in London. The dog had been leashed outside a store. Barrett then took the pup’s rescue upon herself. The animal’s theft and return inspired a book by Virginia Woolf, Flush: A Biography, published in 1933.
Notable dognappings vary by region. In Ireland, where dog racing is popular, a greyhound worth a million euros was stolen from his kennel in 2016.
The abduction of Lady Gaga’s dogs is not, according to Hunter, part of a larger pattern in the United States. (In the United Kingdom, though, experts say the past year has been the “worst ever” for pet thefts.)
The coronavirus pandemic has sent demand for pets skyrocketing, so much so that desperate New Yorkers adopted or fostered nearly every available dog and cat in the city in March 2020. Despite what might seem like obvious economics—high demand boosts prices which in turn incentivize thieves—the American Kennel Club has not seen a marked increase in dognappings as lockdown has rolled on. Stay-at-home orders may even be the reason abductions have not risen.
“During the pandemic, because so many people have been home, we haven’t seen a rise in pet theft,” said Hunter. “People are home with their dogs and able to pay more attention to them.”
She said the best way to deal with dognapping is ensuring you are well-covered. Install a microchip in your pet, collar and tag them with accurate contact information, and don’t leave them unattended by a store or in the front yard.
“That’s the way to protect yourself—diligence, vigilance, knowing where your dog is. Just as much as you miss them, they’ll miss you. Don’t give away certain details about your dog. Don’t post specific information about your house on social media. Don’t answer how much it costs,” she said.
If your pet is stolen, Hunter recommends filing a police report first, then notifying nearby veterinarians and animal shelters, and then doing the thing from the movies: putting up flyers in your neighborhood.