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Duluth dognapping ring: Real or rumor?

Dan Cantrell, who owns 120A Piercing Studio in downtown Duluth, holds one of his miniature pinschers. Cantrell is missing a similar pinscher, Glory, who he believes was targeted and taken by professional dog-nappers. A reward sign and photos are posted on the front of his business. [Bob King /]

Dan Cantrell believes the only way his dog, Glory, could have gone missing is if someone took her. She was on the patio of his Gary-New Duluth home on Feb. 24, which Cantrell said is secured by a door that's tied shut with several knots.

"I found it swinging wide-open," he said. "To get in there, you would have had to cut it."

Cantrell is one of many who believe dognappers are targeting the West Duluth area.

Duluth police, however, aren't so sure. They say the number of missing dogs being reported hasn't gone up, and that they've only heard rumors of dogs being stolen but have no confirmed report of a dog being stolen, or even an attempted theft.

"It's conceivable that it could be happening," Duluth Animal Control Officer Carrie Lane said. "It's just odd that nobody is calling and reporting this. I can't imagine that if somebody tried to grab my kid or my dog that I wouldn't call the police."

Likewise, no reports of stolen dogs have reached the Animal Allies Humane Society, executive director Jim Filby Williams said.

"But we have heard the rumors," he said.

The reports of dog theft in Duluth has mostly gained fire through postings on Craigslist, starting with an anonymous message warning of a dog theft ring stretching from the Iron Range to mid-Wisconsin.

The author of that post, Lin Robinson, who runs Small Breed Rescue and Adoption from her Duluth home near the Lake Superior Zoo, believes her three dogs were the target of theft. For the past several weeks, she said, she has seen a blue truck with a topper slowly drive by her home. Last week, the truck stopped and a man approached one of her dogs, which was behind a chain-link fence, Robinson said.

"I went out there and wanted to know what he was doing," she said.

The man ran back to the truck, but returned two nights later, said Robinson.

"He pulled up to the curb, close to the fence and called to the dog as if he was holding something in his hand," she said.

Robinson went out and screamed at the man, who ran away and hasn't returned since. But she never called police because she fears retribution, she said.

"I didn't want attention drawn to myself, because I felt it would draw the attention of the [thieves] again," she said. "I didn't want them coming back looking for revenge."

So Robinson said she went to Craigslist and spread the word, and since then she has heard from several others who say their dogs were either stolen or the targets of theft.

Robinson said she believes the dogs are being stolen to be sold to animal testers, to be used as bait to attract larger dogs, to be used as breeders at puppy mills, or to be sold to people searching for dogs on Craigslist.

Cantrell has also heard of numerous stories similar to his since he began searching for Glory. In those stories, the alleged thief is usually described to Cantrell the same way, he said: wearing dark sweat pants and a dark hooded sweatshirt, and at times wearing a black winter hat that can be pulled down to a ski mask.

He's still searching for his dog, which Cantrell said requires a special diet and medication or she'll die.

"I haven't given up hope yet," he said. "I've heard stories of people finding their dogs weeks after it's lost."

Lane of the Duluth Police Department said the best way to prevent a dog-napping is to watch your dog at all times.

"Don't let your dog out and go take a shower," she said.

She said it's also helpful to register your dog and have it electronically tagged, which can be done at any veterinary clinic. That way, a lost dog can be quickly scanned, located and returned to its owner.

As for Robinson, she said she keeps a watchful eye on her dogs, but one still escaped from her yard. She later found that some of the links in her fence had been cut to make a hole small enough for a dog to escape, or for a hand to reach through and grab one.

Now when her dogs go outside, she doesn't take her eyes off of them, and she takes a weapon with her.

"Every time I go outside, there's me with a baseball bat," she said.