BILLINGS — It’s been a harrowing month for one Billings family after their dog was stolen from their backyard and held for ransom. Fortunately, four-year-old German Shepard mix Freya was reunited with her owners but only after the family became a target for scammers.
Freya wasn’t sniffing for any trouble, but trouble found Freya on April 19 at her South Side home.
“My mom got home 20 minutes before I did and our gate was open. Both of our dogs were gone,” said Ali, who asked MTN News to identify her only by her first name for safety reasons.
Ali did everything she was supposed to do to try and get her pups back by posting on Facebook, contacting vets and shelters, and notifying the Billings Police Department.
“Immediately we jumped on to the lost and found Billings animal groups and started posting there,” Ali said Wednesday.
Those posts to Facebook were both a blessing and a curse. One neighbor found her other dog and returned him but the search for Freya wouldn’t be so easy.
“We had a few scammers try to reach out to us, couple of them asking for verification codes, just trying to get us to send them money. A lot of out-of-state numbers,” said Ali.
“One asked for 100, another asked for 1,000,” Ali said.
Freya was stolen. In total, Ali said five scammers reached out hoping to get cash for Freya’s return but only one actually had the pup.
At that point, Ali got Billings Police Department involved, and they tracked down the thief.
“And then eventually they found out that she called Animal Control and had them take the dog from her property to the pound,” said Ali.
Ali was reunited with Freya three weeks later but unfortunately, incidents like this are on the rise.
According to the American Kennel Club, dognappings are up 40% since 2021. Billings police investigated 15 cases of stolen animals in 2022 and 22 cases in 2021.
“Definitely more in the last two years than ever before,” said Ashley Burling, the shelter operations manager at Help for Homeless Pets.
She’s worked at the shelter for six years and said she’s seen how dognappings have increased firsthand.
“We noticed it was more common ‘cuz more people are calling. They’ll call and say, hey my dog is missing, it was stolen out of my yard, have you seen it,” Burling said.
Experts recommend microchipping your dog, something Ali will now be doing with Freya, and she hopes others will heed her warning.
“If the situation does happen, please reach out to all of the lost and found animal groups, call the animal shelters, even make a report with the police,” said Ali.