In recent weeks, a white van with the words "Animal Care" on its flank has been slowly rolling through Fort Wayne neighborhoods and raising suspicions that it's involved in possible pet thefts, according to an animal control official.
"At this time, it is just a concern. We want to identify the van, identify the owners," said Belinda Lewis, director of Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control. "We do not currently have a report of a pet theft as a result of this van's activity, but it is still suspicious activity that we need to look into."
On Thursday, a woman reported to an animal control officer that she had seen the van two weeks before in her northwest Fort Wayne subdivision. It was moving slowly down an alley, and two people inside waved at her. The van was described as short in length and rounded in appearance.
The woman told the officer she had heard from neighbors that the van was being used to steal dogs and cats from the neighborhood, according to Lewis.
Lewis emphasized that the city is not accusing anyone of pet theft, but that officials want to learn more about the van, which is not a city-owned van or a decommissioned one. She said the "Animal Care" lettering on the suspicious van is black, while the lettering on the city's Animal Care & Control vans is green.
"We just need pet owners to be very safe and aware," she said, noting that there has not been a spike in reports of missing pets.
Lewis acknowledged the van and its occupants could have innocent intentions.
"It could be a decommissioned vehicle from another county, and they're going down the alley looking for scrap metal," she said.
In general, pet theft is not a significant problem in Fort Wayne, she said.
Late Friday morning, Animal Care & Control issued a statement seeking tips from the public about the van, and by late afternoon, the agency had received word from four people who had seen the van within the past two weeks. Three sightings were in various parts of the city, and the fourth was outside the city in Allen County, Lewis said.
Animal Care & Control suggests these tips for protecting pets: don't leave pets unattended; put identification tags on your pets; register the pets with Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control; have a tracking microchip implanted in your pet.