Pet owners do all sorts of things for their dogs. We buy them jerseys so we can project our love of our favorite sports teams onto them; we get motorcycles with sidecars so they can look super cool riding along with us; we put shameful cones around their heads that they hate in order to make sure that they don’t hurt themselves when recovering from sickness or injury. The pet industry, according to Inc. magazine, is worth $55 billion dollars. We love dogs.

That makes the news out of Wise County—northwest of Denton, in the DFW Metroplex—especially horrifying.

According to NBCDFW, more than forty pet dogs in the country have disappeared in December and January: 

Since November, 40 dogs have been reported missing, according to the Wise County sheriff. There’s no physical evidence that proves the dogs were taken. Still, neighbors have a growing suspicion that all the missing dogs are not just a coincidence.

“It’s really disheartening to think that there are people out here that would do this,” said Woodruff.

“It begs the question of where are these dogs going? And who’s taking them? And what are they doing with them?” said Lewis.

The Wise County sheriff said investigators don’t have any descriptions of possible suspects or their cars. But he said people should be on the lookout for anything that looks unusual that might help bring forward answers.

Forty is a huge number of dogs to go missing, especially in a county with only around 21,000 households. Sheriff David Walker speculated that the dogs may have been stolen for fighting purposes. But right now the sheer lack of information is as maddening as anything—so far, the only evidence is a suspicious car reported in Lewis’s neighborhood. 

The people who live in the area are devastated. WFAA reports that local citizens, at this point, mostly just hope that the dogs were stolen by someone who sold them to other families, rather than for fighting. 

Jack, a two-year-old black lab, has been missing from the Lewis family’s backyard since Dec. 27.

His bright blue collar still hangs above his kennel.

“It makes me think of him,” said Robin Lewis.

But it wasn’t until Robin turned to Facebook that she realized there may be much more to his disappearance.

“If you back track it to the beginning of November, it’s frightening.”

Two dogs from her neighbor Jana’s yard went missing on the same day.

Around the same time, Cassidy McKibben’s four-year-old Jack Russell terrier, Lily, disappeared.

“I noticed that my fence was messed up, and I have posted something everyday since she’s been gone,” McKibben said.

We hope for the best for all of the Wise County dogs and our hearts go out to the families who miss their furriest members. In the meantime, while crime like this can be unpreventable, it’s probably worth refreshing some best-practices for dog theft prevention, just to be on the safe side. 

(image via Flickr)