Crimes against dogs in Mexico City
Video and reporting by Deborah Bonello.
When thieves brandishing handguns broke into Ignacio Villanueva's bulldog-breeding kennels on the outskirts of Mexico City, it wasn't the safe they were after but Cinderella, Titiana, Adelita and a handful of other dogs and puppies.
A gang of robbers who forced their way into the home of Jesus Guerrero's business partner went straight for Kissi, Mexico's No. 1 Yorkshire terrier. And Suleika Lara had to give up Valentina, her purebred Yorkshire terrier puppy, at gunpoint when she was on her way to see her vet in the middle-class Mexico City neighborhood of Del Valle.
Reports of dog theft are increasing around Mexico City, which is already struggling with dire crime levels and high kidnapping rates of people.
There have been 50 dog thefts so far this year reported to Mexico's Canine Federation (la Federación Canófila Mexicana).
"They're snatching dogs out of cars like they would a handbag," said Villanueva, whose kennels were robbed in early October. The thieves took 13 of his bulldogs after tying up his employees at gunpoint.
"I felt like they'd robbed me of 12 years of my life."
Purebred dogs such as bulldogs and Yorkshire terrier puppies sell for more than $2,000 when accompanied by the right documents, and they can go for around a quarter of that price without documentation.
"Bulldogs are a pretty expensive race in comparison with other dogs," said Villanueva.
"They stole them to make some easy money."
When Villanueva got no response from the police after reporting the theft, he decided to take matters into his own hands, offering a reward of more than 200,000 pesos (more than $15,000) for information leading to the dogs' whereabouts. An anonymous phone call sent him to a house where the dogs were, and Villanueva headed there with his partner, Viviana.
"I have a gun at home for self-defense," he said. "I took it with me."
Luckily, he didn't have to use it. The police offered their help when they discovered there was a reward on offer, and Villanueva got his dogs back (see the video). But not everyone's story has had such a happy ending.
Kissi, Jesus Guerrero's prize-winning pooch, was just 20 months old when she was stolen earlier this month after thieves broke into the house of Guerrero's business partner.
"They knew exactly what they were looking for," he said.
There were five other dogs in the house at the time, he explains, but none of them were touched.
Rossy Bernabé, director of the Committee for the Dignified Treatment of Animals (Comite Por Un Trato Digno Para Los Animales in Spanish) says that her organization now receives at least three reports of stolen dogs per month.
"Now it's not only pure-race breeds, now it's adopted dogs, non-pure-race dogs," said Bernabé.
Family mutts are also targeted with the intention, she says, of demanding a ransom for their safe return.
Fernando Paredes, a veterinarian, paid 1,000 pesos (about $80) for the safe return of his Chihuahua Goya, according to a report in El Universal newspaper.
"In many cases, the dogs are part of the family. There are families who don't have children so our animals, our pets, they're not substitutes for children but they're the same thing," explained Bernabé.
The attitude of the police does nothing to discourage the theft of dogs, said Amaranta Guerrero, who owns an animal sanctuary. In April, two young boys tried to snatch her French poodle Claudio when they were taking a walk in the park. Luckily, Claudio put up a struggle and escaped, but Guerrero said that when she reported it to the police, they weren't interested.
"The thieves know that they can do what they like and no one is going to punish them. They're never going to be punished for stealing dogs," said Guerrero.
Suleika Lara said that when her Yorkshire terrier puppy Valentina was snatched by two gun-wielding men on the street, there were two police officers a short distance away who didn't seem to notice anything happening.
"The thieves got away. I went to report the crime, but they said it was absurd that I was trying to report the theft of a dog."
The police could argue that they already have their hands so full looking for kidnapped people in Mexico City that they don't have time to worry about stolen dogs.
So it looks like owners like Jesus Guerrero will just have to suffer in silence.
He said: "It's a sadness that I carry in my soul - she's not a dog, she's a part of my life."
Photo: Jesus Guerrero's prize-winning Yorkshire terrier, Kissi, was stolen from the house of his business partner. Image provided by Jesus Guerrero.