RUSKIN — Missing dogs have become such a problem in the southeastern part of Hillsborough County in the rural Wimauma-Balm area that a second meeting with authorities was held Aug. 15 and a third is planned for Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. at the South Shore Library on Beth Shields Way in Ruskin.
About 25 people showed up at the first meeting held Aug. 3 even though posters were only put up 24 hours ahead of the event and no newspaper notices had yet been sent out.
About 30 new people attended the second meeting, including many in the pet care and grooming industries that are concerned about the medium and large breed dogs that have been steadily going missing in the area for the last few months.
Since organizing the first meeting, Frances Poirrier who has lost two dogs since January, the latest in May, has garnered the help of Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Steve Billor and Cpl. K.A. Vetzel, an investigator from the county’s Animal Services department. Both were on hand to give tips for how neighbors can help each other locate the culprits they think may be stealing dogs for illegal dog fighting, and possibly then recover their animals.
Frances has done more than organize meetings, however. Her niece Leigh Anne Gilbert, a graphic designer, has created a Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/save-our-pets-help-stop-dog-theft-in-tampa-bay/250084758345850 or simply type in Save Our Pets Tampa Bay into Google or Yahoo search engines and then click the entry with those exact words.
The site is filled with photographs of missing dogs, mostly pets that were loved by whole families. Since the area is rural, many of the owners have hundreds of acres of land and let their dogs run free although several have been taken from behind fences in broad daylight.
Because about 75 people have now said they have dogs missing in the specific area since the first posters went up, the sheriff’s office has asked that anyone calling in to make a report use the same case number: #11-378158. The number to call to report is (813) 247-8200.
“Microchipping your pet is the best way to be sure you can prove ownership once the dog is found,” said Cpl. Vetzel. “The first thing vets and animal control officials do when they find an animal is check to see if it has a microchip.”
But going to the shelters and looking in person is always the best way to locate your dog if it is not microchipped.
“It may be in a condition that you don’t recognize from photos on the Internet,” Vetzel said, “Although every animal is listed on the site, photograph and description, at www.petharbor.com.”
On that site, you get to put in your zip code and then go to the county you are in and see photographs of the animals in the shelter there.
“Representatives from C.A.R.E. in Ruskin have told me that they have never seen so many dogs on their ‘Lost Dog’ board. Their ‘Found’ pet board has only two pets on it,” Poirrier said. “There is little room for question that we are in an epidemic of stolen dogs. We suspect they are being used for fighting purposes. This is a cruel sport that needs to be stopped. We at Save Our Pets hope to expand our cause to offer education for prevention among other services for the community, families and our pets.”
Gilbert is now working on a Web site to offer online help to those who do not wish to use a Facebook page.
Meanwhile, Frances may also be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.