Keep a close eye on your pooch, warned Sandy Corbet of the Callaway County Humane Society.
She said Callaway residents are reporting high numbers of disappearing purebred dogs, especially pit bulls and German shepherds.
Karen Fox, of Fulton, is one of the worried pet owners. Her German shepherd, Jake, went missing Thursday evening from her house on Windy Meadows Lane off Route F.
"He was only outside for like 10 or 15 minutes," Fox said Friday.
Three-year-old Jake was let out into the unfenced yard to use the bathroom, as usual, Fox said.
"He very seldom leaves the yard, and when he does, he just goes across the gravel road, goes to the bathroom in the weeds and comes back," Fox said. "He'll visit the cat, go potty and then come lie in front of the door."
She added Jake is very protective and stays nearby to guard the house.
When Fox opened the door to let Jake back inside, he was nowhere to be found. She's searched the neighborhood and said neighbors have seen neither hide nor hair of the dog. Fox said she suspects Jake was stolen and reported the incident to the Callaway County Sheriff's Office.
"He doesn't like strangers, so it either has to be somebody he knew or someone had to tranquilize him," she said.
Fox described Jake as a long-haired shepherd wearing a blue collar with tags. He is intact and has not been microchipped. Dark freckles on his belly and a bump on his spine could be useful identifying characteristics, Fox said.
While one missing dog could be a fluke, Corbet said there are more. She verified another German shepherd went missing Tuesday from the Route H and J area, and said she's heard of several other disappearances — including pit bulls. This past summer, she said, huskies and coonhounds seemed to be targets.
"I can't prove anything," Corbet said. "It could be a coincidence."
However, she suspects thieves are seeking out purebred dogs, swiping them and flipping — or selling — them.
"They're either fighting them or flipping them," Fulton's animal control supervisor Tina Barnes said.
She often hears about an increase in dog thefts in the months before Christmas. This year is no different.
The Sam and Daisy Grabb Animal Shelter has received multiple calls from distressed dog owners asking if their pup has turned up, she said.
"The likelihood of (the thieves) turning them in is very slim," Barnes said.
The American Kennel Club maintains a database of pets reported missing to its Reunite service. From 2014-15, the number of pets reported stolen increased by 30 percent, with German shepherds being the sixth most stolen breed.
Stolen dogs may resurface on Craigslist or Facebook pages where pets are sold.
Fulton Police Chief Steve Myers said while he's aware of the dog-flipping phenomenon, his department hasn't received many reports.
"We've probably had a few of those, but it's been very rare," he said Friday.
Callaway County Sheriff Clay Chism said his office hasn't received a significant influx of stolen dog reports, though he's noticed an increase in Facebook chatter around the topic.
"With lost or stolen dogs, many times we see people post to Facebook group sites instead of making an official report," he said.
He urged anyone who suspects their pet was stolen to report it to law enforcement.
"For us to pursue or follow up on any type of criminal investigation, we need an official report from the victim," Chism added.
AKC suggests keeping your dog from wandering off or being stolen by not leaving it unattended in the yard and always walking it with a leash.
"When you let your dog out, go out with them," Corbet said. "I live out of the county and I have a fenced yard, and I still go out with them."
Additionally, if someone approaches with questions about your dog, AKC recommends not revealing how much the dog costs or where you live.
Corbet emphasized the importance of microchipping dogs. Even if a dog is stolen and successfully sold, she said, there's a chance a vet might check for a microchip during a checkup or before putting a new microchip in.
The Callaway County Humane Society will be microchipping dogs during its Santa Paws event 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Dec. 9 at the John C. Harris Community Building. The minimally invasive, quick procedure costs $25.