DELAWARE COUNTY can be a dangerous place for a defenseless dog.
A Ridley Township man is to be sentenced today for killing his wife's bulldog with a samurai-style sword, and a Southwest Philly man is facing charges in Upper Darby of drowning his ex-boyfriend's Pomeranian in a bathtub.
Now, Springfield Township police are on the hunt for the puppy-bandits who hit a Baltimore Pike pet shop Tuesday night.
Two unidentified men walked into We Love Pets shortly before 7 p.m., grabbed a black pug and a maltipom out of their pens, then hopped into a white Cadillac Escalade that was waiting out back, according to police Lt. William Clark.
"They were pretty brazen," he said. "They knew what they wanted."
The shameless dog-snatchers probably weren't looking for new house pets, police said. The pug and the maltipom - a crossbreed between a Mal-tese and a Pomeranian - were being sold at the store for about $1,000 each, and likely will find their way to the black market.
"Smaller dogs are being targeted," said Lisa Peterson, spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club. "They are more popular these days. Size is an issue, and a smaller breed would be easier to steal."
Dognapping appears to be on the rise nationwide, according to Peterson, who tracks such cases.
There are no hard statistics on dog thefts, but the kennel club recorded only 10 media reports of such cases in 2007, compared with 66 last year - including nine in Pennsylvania.
Among the dogs stolen last year: a $3,000 French bulldog, a $2,100 Yorkshire terrier, and six dogs - three Yorkies, a Shih-tzu, a Shih-tzu-Yorkie and a cocker spaniel - with a combined value of $13,000.
Without registration papers, dog thieves would not likely be able to sell their stolen dogs at pet-store prices, Peterson said.
But the celebrity factor - not to mention "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" - has driven up the demand for dogs that happen to be easiest to filch.
"With the Paris Hiltons of the world displaying their animals in purses, those are walking advertisements for the toy breeds," said Martin Mersereau, of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
"You see a celebrity with a tiny Chihuahua on their arms, and it's very visible and part of popular culture. People want to emulate their favorite celebrities," Peterson said.
Clark said the Springfield crooks didn't even attempt to conceal what they were doing. They just scooped up the pug and the mutt and headed for the door - with a customer chasing them.
"They weren't very smooth," he said.
Clark said he'd heard of cases in which a customer slips a small dog into a coat, but nothing like what happened Tuesday, the pet-shop equivalent of a smash-and-grab robbery.
Police said there is no surveillance footage of the crime. The SUV was last seen headed east on Baltimore Pike toward Clifton Heights and Philadelphia. Police have no description of the suspects or the getaway driver.
The owner of We Love Pets, which has outlets in Springfield and Media, declined to comment yesterday. Clark said the owner fears that the publicity could spawn copycats.
If thieves continue to target high-priced animals, Peterson said, pet-shop owners might want to tighten security measures, such as increasing staff or holding customers' driver's licenses while they look at dogs.
Pet owners should keep a close eye on their dogs, because pooches have been disappearing from back yards and parked cars around the country, Peterson said.
"We have seen an increase in reports of animals being stolen out of people's yards," said PETA's Mersereau.
And it's not always for money.
"Dogfighters are very prolific at stealing unattended dogs and pets out of yards to use as bait to train their fighting dogs," he said.
Anyone with information on the Springfield robbers is asked to call police at 610-544-5507.